E-Visits: The Next Big Thing in Healthcare?

It seems that, by 2009, doctors may be able to bill Medicare for electronic consults, a practice that has been discussed in the past but has not been reimbursed by insurers (except in a few remote instances) to date.

Under this new provision, consumers of healthcare will be able to log on to the Internet and consult their doctors from the comfort of their own home, thus saving themselves from lengthy visits to hospitals or busy waiting rooms.

An advantage of this technology, if it should come to pass, is that patients may be able to access a specialist in a more timely and convenient fashion. Also, patients who find it very difficult to travel or mobilize may find this method of care a literal lifesaver.

Physicians may find it easier to monitor their patient’s conditions and prevent complications from occurring if they are able to maintain better contact with them in this manner. And patients in remote areas may have better access to healthcare than they have enjoyed in the past. In fact, remote telehealth has been in use in some areas already.

So what are the potential pitfalls of this practice? The first and biggest area of concern that comes to mind is the measures that will need to be put into place to ensure confidentiality. This will be an important issue, and patients using such a system may have legitimate concerns regarding the security of their personal healthcare information. Secondly, for hospitals that are already having difficulty implementing electronic healthcare records that are very expensive, implementing a system such as this may be too cost-prohibitive. The technology required to capture and store all the data that will be generated by these “visits” will be staggering, not to mention very expensive.

It remains to be seen whether the idea of e-visits will be the wave of the future or simply a great idea that never really took off. Likely what will decide the issue will be the patients who use the system.

2 comments to E-Visits: The Next Big Thing in Healthcare?

  • There’s so much rich information that we’ve already lost in the move away from house calls; now this? Really? Do we really think that diagnosis quality will stay the same when physician and patient are not co-located?

    I can’t help but sense that if consumers had more choice over their health insurance — rather than having to take whichever health insurance their employer provided — the health care industry would operate differently.

  • Jennifer Bunn

    Thanks for your interest in this post.
    As a nurse, I also wonder how accurarately a patient can be diagnosed “on-line”. I know that I, for one, would miss the personal contact with my patients that makes my job worthwhile.
    It may sound corny, but receiving a hug from one of my patients makes my day, and to lose this contact to a computer galls me somewhat.
    I agree that, given a choice, most patients would choose to see their physician in person. I know that I would.

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