Telemedicine increasingly covered by insurance

Monday, June 4 2012

As the practice of telemedicine grows, many states are working to make it more official and universally accepted by applying the same insurance rules as traditional doctors' visits. Recently, Maryland became the 14th state to adopt these measures, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

To join the other states, Maryland governor Martin O'Malley signed two bills that ensure "reimbursement equity" and continue blazing a trail to a world with significant medical care provided through video conferencing, according to the news source.

A growing trend
Although Maryland is the latest example, the shift has been occurring for years. Many insurance companies have been advocating for the use of online conferencing in medical care as way to improve access, quell the growing doctor shortage and reduce costs, according to Kaiser Health News.

Doctors are still working to more fully understand the trend and incorporate it into their practices. Equipping offices with web conferencing equipment and training staff and patients will make the convenient form of treatment more widespread.

Comfortable patients
What might be slower coming is the acceptance among patients. Being checked, diagnosed and even sometimes prescribed medicine over a computer often requires some getting used to.

"I was suspicious as anyone about getting treated over the computer," Amber Young, who used the technology to get treatment for an upper respiratory illness, told Kaiser. "But I could not have been happier with the service."

Getting more popular
Many initially apprehensive patients are experiencing similar turnarounds and embracing the practice. Whether because of the price - which can be much cheaper than a traditional visit - or simply convenience, telemedicine is growing rapidly. Indeed, the industry is expected to nearly triple to more than $27 billion in 2016, according to a report from BBC Research.

"It's the wave of the future," Joe Kvedar, director of the Center for Connected Health, told the news source.

Disappearing stigma
With Maryland's new law, those numbers are expected to grow. As states and insurers continue to de-marginalize the service, any lingering stigma is likely to evaporate. Many people involved in the field, however, stress that telemedicine will work best if it is used in conjunction with traditional care - not as a replacement.

As patients do adapt, though, doctors' offices across the country are adopting internet conferencing as way to improve their own services. Treating more patients in a more affordable way allows them to focus on improving their care.