Telemedicine catching on

April 19, 2010

Virginia has become the 12th state to require health insurers cover telemedicine services. This includes interactive audio, video, and other electronic media used for diagnosis, consultation, and treatment, according to American Medical News.

Virginia has become the 12th state to require health insurers cover telemedicine services. This includes interactive audio, video, and other electronic media used for diagnosis, consultation, and treatment, according to American Medical News.

The American Telemedicine Association estimates that all 50 states will begin paying physicians for telemedicine services within the next few years.

Telemedicine is often considered in the context of reaching rural or remote areas underserved by certain specialties. But I wonder if it can, and will, become more commonplace as just another way for any physician to interact with patients. In my research for the April cover story, The Future of Healthcare Revealed, telemedicine came up as an option for where care is headed.

I am also curious what physicians think about it - not as a replacement to the office visit, but a supplement, another option. I just had a follow up appointment with my physician this morning, a short, 10-minute check-in, and even though I live in a city and getting to the doctor’s office is quick, I wonder how much more convenient -and just as effective - a televisit would have been. Could I have just dialed up via web cam and talked with her, saving me the trip? Would it have allowed her to schedule me at a different time, say on her off hours, since she wouldn’t have to staff the office or even come into the office?

During the Future of Healthcare article research, I spoke with a physician participating in online visits, which he called “a common sense, logical step.” It can offer flexibility for doctor and patient alike.

So what are the barriers to telemedicine? Of course, there is the technology. It requires both sides to have Internet access and in most cases a web cam and telephone line. But what about cultural barriers? Are physicians interested in a new model? Considering the low adoption rates of EHRs, would telemedicine be seen as just another high-tech hassle?