It seems that in the last several years, telemedicine has become the new buzzword in the medical industry. According to a study by the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine usage has surged by more than 50% in 2015 as compared to 2013. Perhaps no other technological innovation has as great a potential to shift the dynamic of the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

Supporters of telemedicine point to its ability to connect with patients in distant locations as well as its cost-effectiveness compared with traditional office visits. In addition, patients in a digital age, who are increasingly more comfortable with doing tasks online, report an increased demand for telemedical services. In fact, studies have shown that the quality of healthcare services received via telemedical channels is equal to the traditional office visit, and in some cases (such as with mental health and consultive services), telemedicine may even exceed traditional in person visits and deliver a superior product.

According to an article in Medical Economics, 29 states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation requiring private insurers to reimburse telemedical services in some form. In the past year, more than 200 separate pieces of legislation have been introduced in at least 42 states, and approximately 15 million people in 2015 used some form of telemedical services.

That said, as with the introduction of any major technological advances that disrupt an already functioning industry, telemedicine has its detractors. According to the same article, telemedicine has the potential to devastate many smaller local practices that aren’t quick enough to adapt to the shifting needs of its consumers. Healthcare providers with a national presence may be enticed to enter markets where they previously could not because of licensing restrictions. Coupled with the changes in the private insurer industry trending toward reimbursement for telemedical services, physicians in smaller markets will potentially have an even smaller pool of patients to treat as their increasingly technologically savvy consumer base becomes more comfortable receiving healthcare services remotely.

Even still, local medical groups have an opportunity to “get in on the ground floor,” as it were, in the field of telemedicine.

According to a study by HealthMine, 39% of 500 respondents who were insured consumers who have used mobile/internet-connected health applications had not yet heard of telemedicine. In addition, one third of those respondents reported that their insurance offered telemedicine as an option, and a whopping 93% of those respondents who had used telemedicine say that it has lowered their overall healthcare costs.

In the past year, more than 200 separate pieces of legislation have been introduced in at least 42 states, and approximately 15 million people in 2015 used some form of telemedical services.

Telemedicine is expanding rapidly in its infancy, even though a large segment of the population has yet to learn the scope of what telemedicine can provide. Local practices that choose to adopt telemedical solutions early will be at an advantage by securing a new customer base that is more and more adept at incorporating digital solutions for their day-to-day needs.

According to the same article in Medical Economics, local providers have a few options for dealing with the expansion of telemedicine. One possibility is to join a larger practice, thus allowing the local provider to expand the geographical scope of his or her practice, but at the expense of independance. Perhaps more enticing for a local practice would be to grow out their telemedical protocols organically as part of their existing methodology. Since telemedicine is still emergent and new, early adopters can gain a significant advantage by being at the forefront of the trend. Yet another option would be for a local provider to partner with an existing telemedicine provider, thereby taking advantage of a proven infrastructure, and reducing the headaches (and costs) of implementing an entirely new system.

Whatever decision a physician makes with regard to how he wants to handle telemedicine, perhaps the most important thing to take away is this: the ease and convenience of telemedicine appears to be something that the public wants, and is getting increasingly more comfortable using, though many potential customers are still in the dark about the fact that telemedicine exists. This presents an opportunity for the early adopter. And with states crafting more legislation regarding telemedicine and private carriers creating provisions to reimburse telemedicine services, telemedicine appears to be well-positioned to grow as an increasingly normal part of the doctor-patient relationship.

As always, be sure to discuss any telemedicine implementation with your attorney and your private insurance carrier to see what the state regulations are regarding telemedical services. Or, give us a call — one of our insurance agents would be happy to discuss telemedicine with you whether you already employ it in your practice or are thinking about its implementation. Click for a free, no-hassle online quote.