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Health Insurer Reimbursements to Physicians for Online Consultations

Armen Hareyan's picture

Health insurance for online consultations

The Orlando Sentinel on Monday examined how a "growing number of health insurers are starting to pay doctors for the time they spend dealing with patients' medical problems via the Internet." Several large health insurers - such Aetna and Cigna - have begun to or plan to begin to reimburse physicians for online consultations - which cost between $30 and $40 each, with part of the cost covered by patient copayments - for nonemergency medical problems.

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In addition to consultations, physicians can use online communication systems to allow patients to schedule appointments and obtain prescription refills and laboratory results, which increases office efficiency. However, Erika Fishman - a senior analyst at Manhattan Research, a health care technology consulting and research company - said that reimbursements from health insurers might not prompt broad use of online communication systems among physicians, many of whom have concerns about security and efficiency.

According to a recent survey conducted by Manhattan Research, although 90% of U.S. physicians have high-speed Internet access, only about one-fourth communicate with patients online, and only one-third of those who do not communicate with patients online are interested in the practice. Fishman said, "A lot of what is going to drive this is physician-to-physician cheerleading, from those who enjoy this technology and are seeing it has a positive effect on their practice."

Charles Cutler, national medical director for quality for Aetna, added, "If you ask patients, the vast majority want to communicate with their doctors via the Internet. Once physicians become enthusiastic, there will be a tipping point" (Wessel, Orlando Sentinel, 5/15).