Telemedicine Clinics Make Inroads Into Primary Care

Don Fluckinger | SearchHealthIT | July 1, 2013

This is the first of two parts examining telemedicine clinics that support primary care practices.

The health IT expansion of the last five years seemed to have left behind videoconferencing for remote patient visits. While it would seem a no-brainer that can potentially save time for both patient and provider, telemedicine seems to have been reserved for high-demand specialists, such as emergency stroke physicians and dermatologists who use telemedicine implementations to bring their skills to patients in rural areas. The holy grail for telemedicine advocates has been primary care, which could make video physician visits an everyday occurrence on a much larger scale.

But all that's changing this year, it appears. The major obstacle to expanding telemedicine in primary care has not been technology, but rather a reticence on the part of commercial and public payers to reimburse for healthcare delivered remotely via video.

Two trends are changing payers' minds: New state and federal laws giving Medicare and Medicaid the authority to at least consider reimbursing telemedicine, and accountable care organizations (ACOs) that pay providers not for the number of episodes of care but instead for the overall health of their patient populations.