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Physician Productivity

Editor’s note: As the use of process technology takes hold in the the practice of medicine, the reach and productivity of the physicians will be extended. In part, these productivity improvements will address the forecast primary care shortage.

More Insurers Begin Paying for Digital Diagnoses

This year, 39% of doctors said they’d communicated with patients online, up from just 16% five years earlier, according to health-information firm Manhattan Research, a unit of Decision Resources Inc. So far, the most common digital doctor services are the simplest ones, like paying bills, sending lab results and scheduling appointments. But patients like Ms. Rust are also using computers to deal with issues that usually require a trip to the doctor’s office.

Though the number of physicians doing formal digital visits is still small, the practice of online care has grown as more health insurers begin paying doctors for treating patients virtually, albeit at a lower fee scale than for traditional in-office appointments. Among companies that now cover digital visits are Aetna Inc. and Cigna Corp., as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield plans in states including Florida, Hawaii and North Carolina. WellPoint Inc. and Humana Inc. are trying it in parts of the country, and may expand their coverage.

“If this service is valued, and there is payment for it, we will see many more primary-care physicians doing it,” says Ted Epperly, a doctor in Boise, Idaho, who is president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Dr. Epperly offers online visits to his patients, but currently just 3% of the physician group’s members do. That low participation rate, however, doesn’t reflect the widespread use of less-formal digital tools like email to communicate with patients.

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June 30, 2009 - Posted by | Creative disruption, Economics of Health care, Health care delivery | , , ,

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