5 half-truths physicians believe about telemedicine
Every few years a new advancement in medical practice comes along that divides the medical community. Some will be all-in, others will skeptical and yet others will be openly hostile.
Electronic medical records, retail medicine, urgent care and freestanding ERs are just a few examples of recent topics that have divided the medical community. The current debate that I find myself in the middle of: telemedicine.
And it’s not that physicians are all Luddites who wish for the days of paper charts. Many of the concerned doctors are tech-savvy, customer friendly and progressive. Their concerns are very valid and come from a position of care. However, I do believe that some of the concerns reflect an incomplete understanding of what telemedicine is and what it could do for their patients.
Here are 5 half-truths about telemedicine
1. It’s not a good as an in-person visit.
This is true. Period. If we all had the choice to have 100 percent of the information possible before making decision we would like to have it but, even in medicine, we make decisions based on the best available evidence all the time. We even make choices to forgo gathering more information in certain cases. Not every patient with abdominal pain gets labs and an abdominal CT. Is it possible that, with certain complaints, we could gather enough information with a virtual consultation to diagnose and treat without an in-person physical exam?
2. I want to protect my patients from bad medicine.
First off, it’s not all bad. Just like any innovation, there will be many providers more concerned about profit than providing quality care. Perhaps they are more liberal with antibiotics or giving in to patient demands despite it not being the best medicine. The reason this is a half-truth is because you can’t protect your patients from participating. If a patient wants access to telemedicine, they will be able to find it and this will only become increasingly more the case as restrictions continue to fall in state after state. Physicians will not be able to keep you patients from using it, forever.
3. Telemedicine is only for “telemedicine companies.”
No, in fact there are many vendors out there that will allow you (for a pretty nominal price) to start to provide telemedicine for patients. Taking care of your own patients in a new and different way can be a great driver for patient satisfaction and practice engagement. Yes, there are vendors out there that all they do is telemedicine but why let them take care of your patients when you could do it as well.
4. My schedule is already full. Why would I do this?
Surveys increasingly show that patients are using telemedicine, are interested in using telemedicine or would consider the option of telemedicine an important part of their decision to select a practice. All that to say, if your schedule is full now, it’s probably because you were doing things that patients like. If what patients want change, will you?
5. I’ll wait until I can get paid.
With higher deductibles, patients are looking for more cost effective ways to receive care. Many are more than willing to pay cash for a visit. I’ve seen costs anywhere from $30-60. Overhead for providing the service is so low that you can sustain and even be profitable at this price point. Secondarily, if there is any increased draw to your practice, the benefit will certainly outweigh the cost.
Telemedicine is evolving quickly and will likely become a greater part of our days in the coming years. How will you respond? I encourage you to ask questions and learn from those who are providing care in this way to see what might work for you.
Justin Smith, M.D., is a pediatrician and the Medical Advisor for Digital Health for Cook Children's in Fort Worth, Texas. He has an active community on both Facebook and Twitter as @TheDocSmitty and writes weekly for Cook Children's checkupnewsroom.com. His interest in communications started when he realized that his parents were relying more on the internet for medical information. He believes that strategic use of social media and technology by pediatricians to connect with families can deepen their relationship and provide a new level of convenience for both of their busy lifestyles. Dr. Smith’s innovative pediatric clinic, a pediatric clinic “designed by you,” is set to open in Trophy Club in 2017.