Cone Health’s Miller feels confident in diagnosing and treating people who have minor health issues without any additional data.
“You have to rely on your clinical skills to say whether this person is low enough acuity so that you feel comfortable initiating a treatment plan. Most of the time, it is appropriate, he says.”
Many aspects of a patient’s condition can be discerned in virtual visits, notes Fortini. If it appears that an individual can’t be diagnosed and treated remotely, he points out, “you can tell them to hang up and call 911.”
Many physicians have liability concerns about video visits, Kvedar notes. There’s a genuine issue here, he says, but it’s probably not as serious as doctors think it is. “Most malpractice carriers are being very cooperative,” he says.
Not one malpractice insurer has raised rates to physicians who do telemedicine, says Sanders. In his view, this and the absence of malpractice suits involving virtual visits show that “liability is a non-issue.”
Doctors hired by telemedicine services don’t know anything about the patients who request virtual visits, except for what the patients tell them or enter in an online template.
Some large healthcare organizations are integrating their telemedicine platforms with their EHRs so that their own doctors can pull up records when they do virtual visits with patients in their group. In addition, this integration can help outside telemedicine physicians send visit notes to a patient’s regular doctors.
Further reading: Navigating the buzzwords of telehealth
The acceptance of virtual visits among consumers, typically among younger people is growing, experts say. But consultant Gingrass notes it will be difficult to get most patients to adopt this new way of seeking care. “It’s like offering a portal or online appointment scheduling. It takes a while to ramp up adoption,” she says.
One reason why it may take a while for consumers to accept virtual visits is that they’d rather be treated remotely by their own doctor than by an anonymous online physician. A recent survey found that two-thirds of consumers would be interested in having video visits with their own primary care doctors.
If a physician has no prior relationship with a patient, it can be very hard to conduct a virtual visit, says cardiologist Bhatt.
“But when you have an established doctor-patient relationship, that’s a different thing,” she says. “These are people I’ve known through thick and thin. When you know the patient well, this has been a supplement to provide even better care.”