Technology weaves its way into our daily lives more and more, making tasks that once seemed impossible, achievable. The same is true with recent developments in healthcare technology. Telemedicine, or using electronic communications to connect a patient to a doctor, is making some visits to a doctor’s office functionally obsolete. Instead of driving to a doctor, spending hours in a waiting room, then receiving a brief visit, telemedicine gives you access to a physician, all from the comfort and privacy of your home.
A common complaint amongst doctors is the inability to bill for consultation with a patient on the phone after office hours. With telemedicine, providers can convert that phone call into a billable, live streaming video conference using a telemedicine platform. As a result, under telemedicine, physicians can bill for conversations they are already having with their patients.
Telemedicine is a particular interest for parents working full-time, patients who need maintenance medication, and young people. However, there are certain issues to consider before jumping in on this cutting edge technology.
Right now, physicians must be cognizant that only some commercial payers and Medicaid HMO’s participate in telemedicine. However, although not all payers cover telemedicine, the big five, Aetna, Cigna, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Humana and United Healthcare all participate in telemedicine.
Additionally, telemedicine functionally operates as an addition to an office visit. Since 29 states and D.C. have passed telemedicine parity laws, billing for these visits is equivalent to a face-to-face visit. However, this also means a telemedicine visit cannot be on the same day as an office visit. Thus, most physicians utilize telemedicine for follow-ups after an initial office visit.
Specifically, telemedicine is billed using an E&M (evaluation and management) service code with a telemedicine service modifier. If you’re a provider, it’s recommended to bill for lower level E&M codes, since clinical evaluation under telemedicine is limited in scope.
Realistically, telemedicine can best be utilized by a physician during off-hours, separate from their daily patient schedule. This way, telemedicine can serve those who can’t make it to the office during the day due to work of other obligations. Instead of talking to a doctor on the phone after office hours, a patient can use live streaming video to consult a physician by using the telemedicine platform. This way, the patient gets the care they need, and the doctor gets to bill for consultation he would’ve otherwise given for free.
Telemedicine can also introduce a physician to a new patient population. With telemedicine, a doctor will likely have access to more younger patients, who may have never sought a visit due to workload or impatience. If a physician has telemedicine, these younger patients can access care when it is convenient to them, all while avoiding the dreaded waiting room.
Practically, telemedicine gives doctors the opportunity to diagnose and treat external issues(i.e. rashes, abrasions, cuts) that don’t necessitate a trip to the office. Additionally, a physician can electronically prescribe medication without an office visit. This is extremely convenient for patients with chronic illness, who sometimes spend hours waiting in an office just for a maintenance visit.
Telemedicine has intriguing benefits for both providers and patients that will only grow as time goes on. For busy patients, telemedicine can be an alternative to save time taken out of their work day to go to the doctor. For physicians, telemedicine can free up a packed schedule, giving you flexibility in the office while only seeing the patients you really need to see.
If you’re a provider who’s considering adding on telemedicine to your practice, consider EHI’s platform, equipped with a mobile app and an optional cart for your office.