Is Emergency Telemedicine Failing Because We’re Using the Wrong Technology?

This post was contributed by Richard Fury, a longtime health expert, formerly of Kaiser Permanente. Mr. Fury shared his take on why ambulatory doctors should adopt emergency telemedicine. — the editors

Telemedicine is the low hanging fruit in the quest for affordable healthcare. There are valid reasons why ambulatory doctors must adopt emergency telemedicine.

Surveys show a high percentage of patients accept remote care. For physicians and payers, it is obvious that video visits provide value for ambulatory patients and avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Consider the high cost of bricks and mortar and support staff necessary for traditional visits. So, why haven’t we moved forward with wide adoption?

Physicians I’ve worked with understand there are numerous conditions that can be safely evaluated and treated using video technology. Emergency medicine doctors know how many ER patients can be evaluated and reassured remotely. Yet, video visits represent a significant change in practice, a change for which there is little available training and no reimbursement. The reluctance is understandable.

Insurance companies and CMS have been slow to recognize the benefits of telemedicine and to pay providers accordingly. Video visits are efficient and require relatively low cost technology. And the value of patient convenience and satisfaction are not to be dismissed. How affordable will healthcare be when patients are offered video visits when appropriate and physicians are paid for the care and convenience they provide?

Recently, a few insurance companies have begun paying physicians for telemedicine. Hopefully, the transition from fee-for-service to pay-for-value and quality will encourage others to catch up and treat telemedicine as medicine.

In the era of FaceTime and Skype, one must understand that the basic technology necessary for telemedicine already exists. But all too often, telemedicine tools are repurposed videoconferencing systems. How many physicians can afford expensive telepresence consoles built for corporate board meetings? Will patients be able to navigate the bells and whistles they don’t need? Should doctors fear being asked to provide technical support during video visits? The answer is that the user experience must be patient-friendly, intuitive, and simple. 

It’s high time we examine the failures of telehealth and secrets of success and adopt video visits for the benefit of all.

rf-photoAbout the Author

Richard Fury, MD is a board-certified family physician with interests in technologies which enhance access, patient engagement, and affordability of healthcare. He is the former director of Kaiser Permanente’s Tech Group, where he led teams developing applications to enhance physician practices as well as websites for patient access and service. Currently, Dr. Fury devotes his time to practicing urgent care and promoting technology-driven healthcare efficiencies.