Doctors Increasingly Perform Online Visits

"This year, 39 percent of doctors said they'd communicated with patients online, up from just 16 percent five years earlier, according to health-information firm Manhattan Research, a unit of Decision Resources Inc," the Wall Street Journal reports. While most of those doctors are digitizing billing, scheduling and lab result functions, a few are also using computers to do things like diagnose and recommend treatments, services that typically require a trip to the office.

"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," the Journal reports.

Ted Epperly, the president of the American Academy of Family Physicians told the Journal only 3 percent of his membership was currently offering online visits (Epperly's Boise, Idaho, practice is among them). However, that number doesn't reflect the "widespread use of less-formal digital tools like e-mail to communicate with patients." Doctors prefer simpler, easy to treat conditions for e-visits, and some worry that patients may have difficulty knowing whether their issues meet that description (Mathews, 6/30).

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