Telemedicine Doesn’t Pay (yet)

By jasonP

Telemedicine technology not only brings efficiencies and cost savings to existing medical services, but also expands the reach of medical services into areas where there were none. Examples include off-shore oil rigs, and prisons; limited-access locales, which make medical care difficult and expensive.

As reported in the New York Times, a company called NuPhysica is offering telemedicine services to off-shore oil-rig workers.

With video conferencing and remote monitoring devices, a doctor onshore can assess a patient and recommend a care-plan to an on-site paramedic, or decide that the patient should be transported to an onshore facility.

California is spearheading a new plan to utilize telemedicine in its prisons, where a doctor can see inmates face-to-face via video conferencing. The savings in inmate-transport and security details could be $1.2 billion per year.

The barrier to these services reaching the mass-market, general public is insurance reimbursement. Most insurance companies are not yet structured to compensate care-providers for practicing telemedicine. A family doctor could potentially help more patients in a day with telemedicine, saving patients time and money, but he may not get paid for any of it.

Fortunately, things are starting to change.

Information Week reports on a recent study, in which two-thirds of hospital administrators surveyed said that their facilities now use telemedicine, and 87% of them are satisfied with the results. Some insurance companies are now rolling out limited trial-runs of telemedicine systems. It is likely that as these trials are conducted, the benefits to both costs and patient care will be self-evident. Only then will the insurance industry start to embrace telemedicine in the mass-market.