Times are changing! To compete in to today’s times, doctors are faced with the challenge of seeing 30-plus patients per day, keeping the wait times down, adhering to the meaningful use guidelines – all while participating in the endless maintenance of certification activities. But like it or not, medicine has changed, and you have to keep up or you likely are going to be left behind.

Pediatricians and family physicians more than other specialties are inundated with phone calls and lengthy conversations on constipation and congestion. Most of us just take the call with a smile, and chalk it up to part of the job. But what if you could provide a service that allowed you to get paid for those lengthy conversations, offered the convenience of a consultation without the patient having to come in the office – without the risk of your giving faulty advice because you haven’t actually evaluated the patient. Well, that’s what telemedicine has to offer. For a nominal monthly fee, your patients can subscribe to your “virtual” office. Whether you schedule during your office hours or set aside time before or after clinic, you now can capture a whole new clientele.

For teens, access to their doctors through their electronic devices would provide the convenience they need. Even if the issue cannot be treated without a visit, it allows for early evaluation. Acne, skin rashes, emotional issues, menstrual issues, hair issues, weight issues – all of these can be addressed via telemedicine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Telehealth Care (SOTC) helps guide you on how to bill for telemedicine services. It provides newsletters, educational series, and liability information. Much of the concern with telemedicine is the inconsistency of reimbursement for the service, but things are changing, and more and more of these services are being recognized for their value in meeting the needs of the patient.

There are different products on the market to assist you in setting up your virtual office. Understanding the differences in services is important. Services such as Doctor on Demand have a team of doctors available for fee-for-consult, at approximately $40. Other services, such as myowndoctor.com, set up a virtual office for you, which allows more of a concierge type service for a nominal monthly fee – approximately the amount of a copay – to allow patients access to the telemedicine service with their own physicians. This a great option that can create a cash revenue for you and broader access to patients.

There are several services provided by insurance companies – MDLIVE (Cigna) , LiveHealth Online (WellPoint) , and Online Care Anywhere (BC/BS Minnesota) – where providers are reimbursed at $45-$49 per visit. What is important to know when choosing a company is to be sure that the software is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliant. Currently there are more than 15 companies on the market, and many more to come.

Staying up with the times is going to be key in surviving the current changes in health care. Teens in particular are a difficult group to access, but telemedicine provides that access and the comfort in continuity of care with their own physicians.

Dr. Pearce is a pediatrician in Frankfort, Ill. She said she had no relevant financial disclosures. E-mail her at pdnews@frontlinemedcom.com .

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