Telehealth doctor phone consults covered by Medicare. Concern over the COVID-19 “pandemic” prompted Medicare to respond by allowing doctor “visits” by telephone.
What is Telehealth / Telemedicine?
Medicare telemedicine services include office visits, psychotherapy and other consultations. Real time two-way communication (video and audio) allows patient and doctor to have “FaceTime”.
With telemedicine you can receive medical advice anytime, anywhere, without leaving your home.
What if your doctor is unavailable when you have a medical crisis? The ability to use telehealth services is beneficial.
Telemedicine is Not New
Doctor/patient phone consults are not new. In home visits, especially in rural areas, are virtually impossible.
Telehealth services have existed since the 1950’s with the use of landlines. As phone technology improved cellular “smartphones” and computer tablets like iPads have expanded the ability to communicate.
New technology allow the doctor and patient to talk and see each other at the same time. This “Star Trek” approach to health care allows us to go where no one has gone before.
Insurance is not necessary to access services like GoodRx Care but it is nice to know that your red, white and blue Medicare card works for you.
Is Telehealth a Viable Business Model?
Telehealth is a two edged sword.
On one hand patients have access to REAL doctors who offer “FaceTime” type consults. Patients and doctors exchange information about overall health, aches, pains and concerns.
Consuling a real doctor with a medical degree is better than asking Dr. Google about symptoms.
Beyond the question of quality of care physicians will have to ask if this is a viable business model? Will telemedicine provide sufficient revenue to allow practices to survive?
Close to half of doctors are now using telehealth to treat patients as the COVID-19 pandemic changes practice patterns and how physicians deliver care.
That’s up from 18% of physicians using telemedicine two years ago, based on The Physicians Foundation’s “2018 Survey of America’s Physicians.” – Fierce Healthcare
So the good news is, more doctors are offering remote access consults. But the bad news?
Some medical practices are seeing a 60% dropoff in patient visits and a 55% reduction in revenue. Medical support staff is being laid off or having a reduction in hours.
Telemedicine is a short term solution to health care with a long term impact that is not workable.
A substantial minority of physicians (32%) said they plan to change practice settings, leave patient care roles, temporarily shut their practices or retire in response to COVID-19, the Merritt Hawkins survey found.
My Own Telemedicine Visit
A few weeks ago my family practitioner called to let me know they have temporarily suspended in office visits. My overall health is good. No chronic conditions but my doctor prefers to have 6 month follow up visits which include routine lab work.
They wanted to know if I would be willing to have a virtual office visit in place of the customary one.
I thought about it for a moment. No need to get dressed, no mask, no hand sanitizer routine. I won’t have to strip and put on a hospital gown. Won’t have to weigh in.
What’s the downside?
Let’s go for it.
The overall visit took about 20 minutes. My doctor was more chatty than normal. Even greeted me with “Hi Bob” like we were old friends.
She had questions for me, primarily about alcohol consumption during COVID-19 “lock in”. Also asked about what I was eating and how was my weight?
Normally I only drink on weekends, having a glass of wine or two with supper. Now I find myself having wine closer to 5 nights per week vs the usual two.
Is that a bad thing?
No, not really. Just don’t let it get away from you was her response. Same with your weight.
Because I had read about doctors losing money on virtual visits I wondered about the bill.
A month later I had my answer.
Normally these visits run around $450 (gross charges) including lab. After Medicare repricing the total comes in around $150 or so.
My televisit was $210 repriced to $86.
Saves me money but how about the medical practice? How long can they survive with 40% less revenue?
I suppose time will tell.