When Mia Finkelston, a family practice physician in Leonardtown, Md., first opened her small-town physician practice, things started off well.
"I was taking care of patients that I'd see in the grocery store. My patients were my friends' parents. It was that sort of thing. It was very tight-knit and within the community," Finkelston says.
Yet, like many other physicians in today's healthcare landscape, financial constraints forced Finkelston and her partner to sell to a larger practice. The practice implored them to see a higher volume of patients. In turn, having to see a higher volume of patients shoved aside the ones from her community, with whom she had built a rapport. Those patients told her it was harder to get an appointment with her and began to see other providers.
That's when the idea of telemedicine came into her head. She said she wanted to see the people from her community who couldn't get an appointment with her after hours, via a telemedicine application. Unfortunately she says, "No one in my town was interested in it. I think being a small town, it was too new."
The idea, however, came back to her when American Well, a Boston-based provider of telemedicine software, came calling.
After a few conversations, she accepted a position in Online Care Group, an American Well-affiliated online medical practice that uses the telemedicine technology to care for patients. While she wasn't burned out from running a practice, Finkelston says telemedicine gave her flexible hours that made it a huge draw over practicing face to face. At first, she tried to practice via telemedicine and maintain a brick-and-mortar practice. Eventually, she went all in on telemedicine.
"I quickly realized [telemedicine] isn't going anywhere. It's going to get better and better. It gave me a lot of energy … so I made the jump to full time telemedicine," she recalls.
Finkelston's excitement over the promise of telemedicine is not an anomaly in medicine. A recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the Robert Graham Center, a nonprofit organization focused on population health, found that nearly nine in 10 family physicians say they would use telemedicine as a tool to treat their patients if they were compensated for it. Moreover, Miranda Moore, economic and health services researcher at the Robert Graham Center, says that majority of respondents, whether they used telemedicine or not, agreed it had the potential to improve physician access and continuity of care.