Doctor at desk talking to patient with telemedicine solutions

Will Telemedicine Solutions Ease Physician Shortage?

For the next 20 years, three million baby boomers will reach retirement—each year, according to Advisory Board. Today, one in five people already lives in an area with a shortage of primary care physicians, and some hospitals are already experiencing a shortage of specialists; what will happen when we keep adding more patients than doctors to the healthcare system? Many experts, such as the Association of American Medical Colleges, predict that the shortage will only worsen. In a proactive effort to alleviate the problem and increase patients’ access to physicians, some hospitals and health systems have begun encouraging their patients to use telemedicine solutions instead of traveling to the doctor’s office, thus enabling physicians to see more patients more efficiently.

Fortunately, research indicate that patients and employers are becoming increasingly more supportive of telemedicine solutions. A survey conducted by Harris Poll found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents are willing to have an online video visit with a physician; if a prescription is needed, 70 percent would rather have a video visit than travel to the office for an in-person appointment. The same survey revealed a 68 percent increase in the number of employers that offer telemedicine.

The numbers look promising, but significant obstacles still hinder telemedicine adoption—particularly reimbursement and regulatory requirements. Over the last 20 years, legislation has slowly evolved to permit reimbursement for more telemedicine services, signaling a shift towards value-based care. Perhaps the largest legal barrier is physician licensure and oversight, which is managed at the state level. Generally, a telemedicine doctor must be licensed in the state in which the patient is physically located. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, an agreement between 29 states, allows physicians to practice medicine across state lines within the compact, but the remaining states are limited to the doctors within their borders.

As healthcare moves towards a value-based delivery model, telemedicine solutions are sure to play a large role, both in easing the physician shortage and in driving more efficient, more cost-effective care.

To read more about telemedicine solutions as a proactive response to the US physician shortage, visit Becker’s Hospital Review here.

To learn more about the legal challenges of professional licensure, visit InsideSources here.

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