It’s an exciting time for telemedicine. A flurry of innovative new applications and websites have come onto the market with the express intention of applying the Uber model of business to the practice of healthcare. Why are these services so promising? Let’s explore the Uber model of conducting business: A client needs to travel somewhere, and in order to get there, they need a ride – so they pull up the Uber app on their phone, input their request, and a driver greets them within minutes. Consider the components at play here: One, the service is on-demand, and not planned in advance. Two, wait time is considerably low. And finally, Uber’s partnership with “freelance” drivers means that they can bundle the cost of the ride together with the tip they would normally have to offer their driver in addition to the metered fare. The model truly caters to today’s consumer – pragmatic, tech-savvy and empowered.
Given the success the Uber model has seen, it’s easy to see why applying it to the administration of healthcare is a brilliant decision. Patients who are in need of non-urgent medical attention can connect to a network using telemedicine services and enter what they’re looking for by sending out a request to participating healthcare providers. Within minutes for most platforms, the patient will then be matched with a physician, who will conduct the appointment via video call, eradicating the need for a patient to commute to an in-person appointment.
The convenience of virtual appointments isn’t the only reason that businesses using the Uber model have recently gained visibility and popularity. Addressing the growing need for easier access to healthcare at a lower price point may be most significant. Not only does video conferencing cut down on patients’ wait times, but it also allows for a lower cost per appointment (the typical charge for a video appointment with a physician through one of these platforms is about $50). For run-of-the-mill health complaints, like sore throats, urinary tract infections and allergies, it is, for many people, a far preferable option to meet with a doctor over video chat instead of having to travel to a doctor’s office.
Although it is commonly accepted that at least a partial move to virtual healthcare is inevitable, there are still some obstacles that the health IT community must overcome before this method of healthcare administration becomes the norm. For one, Medicare’s policies have yet to catch up to technology – despite the fact that they are this country’s biggest insurer, they still “do not pay for telemedicine services for the roughly 80 percent of beneficiaries who live in urban areas,” according to Gary Capistrant, the chief policy officer for the American Telemedicine Association. Elaborating on this point, Capistrant stated that, “The reimbursement and coverage is the biggest single barrier to the use of telehealth.”
With that said, though, the Medicare bundled payment initiatives will change how the company reimburses physicians by allowing them to bundle costs into one lump sum payment, in lieu of the current process for reimbursement, which is convoluted, time-consuming and deliberately confusing. This will not only make the barrier of entry to telemedicine lower, but it will also save physicians money that can be used, instead, to bring technology to the practice of medicine on a broader scale.