Telemedicine may be the next great medical frontier, DO says
In 2012, the list of industries radically transformed by technology is exhaustive. There’s shipping, retail, printing and journalism. Is health care delivery next? Telemedicine is poised to rapidly change the direction of this field, said Darren Sommer, DO, MPH, in an OMED session today.
“There may be a time during our careers when we see patient visits go from house calls to office-based practice back to house calls that are virtual,” said Dr. Sommer, who is the vice president of Premier Physician Services in Dayton, Ohio. “And if it does happen, it’s going to turn how we deliver health care on its head. And I think we’re probably closer to achieving that than most people think.”
Telemedicine—the practice of providing health care to patients remotely, whether by phone, videoconference or other means—has grown rapidly in the past several years and will continue to swell, Dr. Sommer said. Worldwide, the telemedicine market will be a $27.3 billion industry by 2016, he said, citing BCC Research.
Physicians who ignore the forward march of telemedicine risk losing patients, Dr. Sommer said. Those who embrace telemedicine will open themselves to new opportunities.
Current laws governing telemedicine vary by state, and most dictate that physicians who deliver care across state lines must be licensed to practice in those states.
Reimbursement rules for telemedicine vary as well. Dr. Sommer noted that 12 states have enacted legislation requiring private sector insurance companies to pay for telehealth services. Medicaid and Medicare reimburse for some telemedicine services, but stipulations apply. For instance, Medicare patients must be located in a designated health professional shortage area or the physician must be particpating in an approved telemedicine demonstration.
Physicians interested in incorporating telemedicine into their practice should first investigate whether their professional liability insurance covers telemedicine, and then get comfortable with the billing process, Dr. Sommer said. It’s also vital for physicians to assess the security and reliability of their network.
“Before you make big capital investments, make sure that you have the bandwidth and the ability to provide these services,” Dr. Sommer said. “You don’t want to buy a system then find out that you’ve outgrown it and have to invest in another expensive system. So make sure you can scale it up.”
Patients are interested in taking advantage of new medical technologies, Dr. Sommer said, and physicians stand to save time and money by using telemedicine.
Audience member Bhaba Misra, DO, a general internist, has been using telemedicine himself. “I live in Virginia, and we just started doing teleneurology at our hospital,” he said after the session. Despite some drawbacks involving liability, the new venture has been going better than he expected and helps provide greater resources to the hospital’s patients, he said.