Telemedicine helps physicians enhance service, income

For better or worse, the realities of a post-health-reform world are forcing doctors to examine options to update their practices to survive in a new environment. Faced with these challenges, doctors are selling their practices to hospitals, taking out loans to meet payroll or revamping their business models entirely.

And while it's not free, help is available for physicians looking for guidance on their chosen direction, as witnessed by the rise in consultancies focused on forming accountable care organizations or transitioning to direct-pay practice.

For example, Wolf Shlagman, founder and CEO of Miami-based telemedicine provider Consult A Doctor, said his company offers another appealing option for physicians looking to better serve patients and improve their revenue streams at the same time.

There are two ways physicians can tap into these benefits, Shlagman told FiercePracticeManagement. The first is by using the company's recently launched MyPractice24/7 platform to provide patients timely, convenient phone or Web consultations and be reimbursed for their efforts.

Access to the platform is free for physicians, Shlagman explained, and allows member doctors to set their own rates to give patients 24/7 access to remote care. Depending on the member physician's preference, he or she can provide those consultations personally or use Consult A Doctor's network of on-call physicians to cover after-hours care (potentially replacing a traditional answering service, he noted).

"The way we make money is we get a small portion of that membership fee and a transaction fee every time there's a consultation," Shlagman said. "Physicians can literally be offering more services, expand their practice or panel, be seeing less patients and making more money."

The amount of extra money physicians can earn by providing telephonic care (not substantially different from the questions and requests most doctors already handle by phone for nothing) may be substantial, according to Shlagman. For example, he said, take a typical primary care practitioner with a panel of 2,000 to 3,000 patients, and imagine 10 percent to 20 percent agree to pay a $20 monthly fee to have 24/7 physician access for themselves and their families: 600 patients times $20 equals an extra $12,000 per month, he said.

The other way doctors can boost their incomes and help more patients is by joining Consult A Doctor's pool of on-call physicians. Doctors who are part of this pool set their own schedules to provide coverage for doctors using MyPractice24/7, as well as clients from the many large corporations and health plans that contract with the telemedicine provider to offer care for their members.

Luis A. Mojicar, a board-certified family physician in Orlando, has provided telemedicine for Consult A Doctor clients after hours and on his days off since 2008. More significant than the extra income he's able to earn by doing phone consultations, Mojicar told FiercePracticeManagement the greatest benefit of being part of the network is that it allows him to provide affordable care to patients who are uninsured or may otherwise resort to expensive ER visits for routine problems.

"A lot of them tend to not seek any medical treatment because they can't afford it. So with Consult A Doctor, you're able to help those folks out and prevent them from getting worse," he explained. "The compensation is minimal compared to the benefits that we're giving patients."

To learn more:
- visit the Consult A Doctor website
- read this article from Florida Trend

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