Trend: Physician online consult volume growing

As we've reported for more than a year, online physician consults via the internet (sometimes known as "e-visits") are growing more popular over time. While some physicians are leery of conducting patient check-ins online, as they're concerned they'll miss a critical detail, others believe that such visits are fine for patients with minor ailments. In any event, about one-third of e-consults end with the doctor asking the patient to come in for a face-to-face visit, according to e-visit technology vendor RelayHealth.

Insurers like Aetna and Cigna have come on board and begun reimbursing for such visits, making it more tempting for doctors to consider such an approach.

Right now, the number of physicians who are offering such services is small, but it's grown decisively since some major insurers began reimbursing for e-visits. For example, the number of Cigna physicians offering online consults has grown 33 percent this year, though it still only accounts for 12,000 of its 500,000 doctors. Meanwhile, about 5 percent of Aetna's 490,000 doctors have signed up for e-visit services.

Smaller insurers have seen an increase in e-visits, too. For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida began offering online physician visits to patients back in 2004, and today, a few thousand of its 28,000 doctors use this technology. These doctors generate only a dozen e-consults per month for the entire group, but BCBS executives note that doctors may be using the system largely for its free features at present.

To learn more about this trend:
- read this South Florida Sun-Sentinel article

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