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Is Telemedicine Too Disconnected
By Shayne Bevilacqua | 08-13-2014

The age of telemedicine is officially upon us as a handful of insurers are rolling out video conferencing programs to help patients see a doctor over the digital medium. Insurers like WellPoint and Aetna are offering 4 million and 8 million patients—respectively—the ability to partake in e-visits over the next year. Companies like American Well Corp., Teladoc Inc. and MDLive Inc. are joining forces with insurance companies to provide these video services that certainly have their advantages.


With Obamacare, more people than ever are receiving health insurance, making the average wait time to gain an appointment and see a doctor skyrocket to the point that many doctors are not willing to see new patients. A study published by PLoS ONE in 2013 documented that the average ER visit has risen to $1,233. Telemedicine can help alleviate both of these issues, by cutting down wait times and offering its service for only $50 a visit.


In terms of accessibility, all three services also provide mobile apps as well as 24/7 access to the video services. Consumers who have high-deductibles like the telemedicine plans as well because they have less to pay out of pocket for upfront fees. And, with the current primary-doctor shortage in the country, there are physicians who are enjoying the ability to increase their footprint over their licensed state. Despite the pros to these services, though, there are physicians that see some flaws in the programs.


One reason some doctors disagree with video conferencing medicine is the lack of physical touch.


“Just one little touch can make a big difference” to feel where the pain is at, said R. Adams Dudley, a professor of medicine and health policy at The University of California, San Francisco. For symptoms doctors need to see, “some computer screens just don’t have the best resolution, and you can’t really adjust the lighting,” (bloomberg.com)


There are other limitations to the services. Some state medical boards do not allow for many medications to be prescribed online. Also, physicians have to be licensed in the same state where the patient lives. It’s because of some of these restrictions that Teladoc will not rollout their service in Idaho, while five states will not be able to use American Well’s telemedicine service.


Despite some of the drawbacks to telemedicine, the AMA went on record in June to say that there are “significant benefits” to the use online medical diagnostics. With the possibility of a multi-state telemedicine license from The Federation of State Medical Boards looming on the horizon, it is possible that some of restrictions on telemedicine will fade away. Only time will tell if the medical care from telemedicine is as good, or better, than the technology that uses it.