Webcam doctor visits could go mainstream

By Matt Kuhrt

We may not have our flying cars yet, but the infrastructure and technology for video calls has become so widely available that its use is practically ubiquitous in some circles. That fact had tech-savvy prognosticators at the Consumer Electronics Show wondering when the medical establishment would embrace video calls as part of the broader drive to provide telemedicine services, according to an article in Newsweek.

Patient demand has arguably played more of a role in driving the advancement of telemedicine in the industry than physician preference. While some doctors has embraced online consultations, Newsweek puts the number providing video consultation in the past 12 months at less than 10 percent.

As the industry scrambles to determine the most effective way to respond to Medicare shifting 90 percent of its payments to a value-based model by the end of 2018, virtual availability may offer an easy way for physicians to save themselves time and costs.

Current family physicians could do in the neighborhood of 20 percent of their current office workload via virtual means, suggests recent post by John Bender, M.D., on the AAFP blog. The trick will be ensuring both doctors and patients are comfortable with care delivered in this fashion, and that the type of care delivered remotely is appropriate to the channel.

Potential barriers to widespread adoption of the technology involve cost at the provider end, as well as the need for updated regulatory boundaries that encourage the technology's use while simultaneously ensuring the option is both safe and useful. Bender said he sees some progress on those fronts, but cited the American Telemedicine Association's assertion that we're only "about halfway there" at present.

To learn more:
- read Newsweek's article on webcam doctors
- check out the AAFP post on telehealth and family medicine