The second Tuesday of each month, practice managers and healthcare industry service providers gather at KraftCPA headquarters for the monthly Nashville Medical Group Management Association (NMGMA) meeting.
During the January luncheon, Michael Cash, MHSA, FACMPE, a medical practice consultant with SVMIC™, discussed telemedicine trends. Calling it a 'disruptive technology,' Cash likened telemedicine vs. a traditional clinic to Amazon vs. a traditional retailer. Consumers, he noted, drive the demand for the greater convenience of the disruptor while also utilizing the more traditional model.
Sharing a personal experience with an eye infection that occurred over a holiday weekend, Cash opted for the convenience of a telemedicine provider. After completing the check-in process, he said a clock appeared indicating a physician would be available in seven minutes. "Right at seven minutes, a doctor from Knoxville came on," he noted, adding she was able to view his eye and prescribe medicated drops. "Whether you are for it or against it," he told the NMGMA audience, "I want you to know this is out there, and you're now competing not just with the office down the street but regionally, as well."
He added telemedicine offers patients price transparency with fees clearly marked. Cash said that although a number of payers still don't cover telemedicine visits, the cost is often less expensive than what a patient would pay out-of-pocket for a covered provider considering high co-pays and deductibles. Additionally, he continued, trends show expanding telemedicine coverage as virtual visits gain traction among state policymakers addressing access issues and demand increases among Millennials who are not brand/physician loyal but instead are focused on convenience and costs.
While Cash was quick to say telemedicine isn't appropriate for many conditions, there is a growing number of ways it is being utilized including as an on-call supplement for a practice, to extend care to underserved areas, for remote patient monitoring of chronic conditions, to maintain connection in the post-surgical global period, and to address a number of minor ailments and injuries. Cash also said physician practices might consider telemedicine as another revenue stream during the day. "Telemedicine can be used to supplement office time when you have a no-show," he said of filling unexpected openings in the schedule.
Citing statistics from a number of sources including the Public Health Institute, Pew Research, and the Center for Connected Health Policy, Cash said the number of patients using telemedicine is expected to grow from 350,000 in 2013 to 7 million in 2018. Consumer demand and improved technology is fueling that growth with 64 percent of American adults owning a smartphone, 59 percent of adults aged 65 and over using the internet, 64 percent of patients saying they are willing to have a video visit, and 97 percent of patients expressing frustration with provider wait times.
Although telemedicine is gaining popularity with patients, payers and providers, Cash said it requires forethought to launch a program. "Telemedicine is not a service provided. It's a mode of delivery," he noted. There are a number of concerns that must be addressed including HIPAA compliance and technology. "You can't go online, download Skype and just see patients," he warned. And, while Tennessee parity laws allow for virtual patient encounters to be in a home setting, many payers still require patients be located in "a qualified setting." With his background at SVMIC, Cash also said providers should check with their malpractice carrier to ensure their liability policies cover telemedicine.
For information on upcoming NMGMA events or to learn more about the association, go online to nmgma.com.