I have been practicing telemedicine successfully for over four years. It has changed my life. I have a higher job satisfaction, I am able to practice from anywhere in the world (as long as there’s good wi-fi), and I have more control and flexibility over my schedule. The learning curve was steep and there are still moving parts to practicing telemedicine, but I am thankful everyday that I began this journey in 2015.
And, I am not alone. More and more physicians are implementing telemedicine every day. With the continual addition of Medicare codes for coverage of virtual health services, the adoption of telehealth is growing year over year. In fact, some form of telemedicine is presently covered by Medicaid in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, private payer coverage for telemedicine from some of the country’s largest insurance payers is also growing. In some states, reimbursement for telehealth services parallels that of in-person services for the same type of visit.
Telemedicine has taken on many shapes and forms, from urgent care delivery operated by companies like Teladoc to remote patient monitoring, as well as chronic care management and basic prescription renewals. As technology continues to improve, the limits of what physicians can do with telemedicine is constantly expanding. What was not thought possible just a few years ago is now commonplace in telehealth.
In addition to expanding reimbursement coverage, doctors are increasingly realizing that patient use of telemedicine is inevitable. The consumerization of health care has caused giants like Apple and Amazon to enter into the health care space. The patient is now both a consumer and a patient. Doctors who shy away from telemedicine may find themselves left behind as patients choose convenience over cumbersome care options. Given that patients use digital solutions in all aspects of their lives, from banking to retail, health care is no different. Salesforce reported data showing that 60 percent of millennials support the use of telehealth to eliminate in-person health visits. Telemedicine is no longer an innovative fad — for most physicians, it’s a necessity to meet patient demands.
Luckily for physicians, the trend toward telemedicine and digital health implementation will benefit doctors and patients alike. With rates of physician burnout on the rise, digital health provides physicians with more freedom in how they choose to practice medicine. Data shows that almost one-third of physicians are burned out and many of them report that more control over scheduling and increases in work-life balance would increase their work satisfaction. While some physicians fear that telemedicine and digital solutions might edge them out of a job, the fact is that the American Association of Medical Colleges anticipates a physician shortage of 120,000 by 2030. In fact, without digital health solutions, the demand for doctors would far outweigh the supply. Innovative health technology solutions and companies can help to bridge this gap and alleviate the anticipated physician shortage. It can also provide doctors with innovative practice solutions, a more streamlined approach, and more freedom in practicing from home, without sacrificing excellent quality of care.
Implementation of telemedicine into outpatient-based practices can be done in a stepwise fashion. Integration of telemedicine into current physician practices can be overwhelming for physicians who have been in practice for years, but integrating in small stages not only allows for a cost effective process but also accounts for reimbursement fluctuations by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and private payers.
The most intimidating factor for physicians in telemedicine is reimbursement. An equal or close second barrier to entry is navigating the legislative landscape and understanding the intricacies of how to practice telemedicine legally, especially as guidelines vary by state. But, physicians who choose to participate in the conversation and educate themselves will be leaders in telemedicine and health technology. In fact, early physician adopters of telemedicine are the doctors who stand to benefit the most, from the standpoint of patient and personal satisfaction.
Dr. Nagori is the Co-Founder & Medical Director for SimpleHealth.com, a telemedicine platform that has over one million patients. She is a national speaker on telemedicine, a key opinion leader for several health technology companies, and provides physician education on telemedicine at innovatehealth.teachable.com.
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