Getting a doctor's exam from home

More and more physicians are conducting online exams, and a growing number of insurance companies are supporting the concept.

Jennifer Rodriguez doesn't waste time sitting in a doctor's office waiting room.

"Other than my work, which is usually 8 to 5, or 9 to 5, I have various different appointments, so I'm very busy during the week," she said.

When Rodriguez is sick, it's a struggle to find a minute to go to the doctor's office, so she loves being able to use her computer for a virtual visit, where all she has to do is log on, answer a questionnaire about symptoms and wait to hear back.

"It's very convenient for me. I can log in from home, I can log in from work," Rodriguez said.

Dr. Ann Mai is one doctor who supports the online exams.

"I'm online all day long, so usually within 1 to 2 hours, I get in touch with the patient and then decide whether they need to come in or continue the Web visit and then prescribe if necessary or refer somewhere if necessary," Mai said.

It's projected that one in five office visits could be eliminated through online communication. Recently, some of the biggest insurance companies, including Aetna and Cigna, started reimbursing doctors for E-exams.

"They're starting to try to work with physician groups to come up with a way to pay for us providing these services that will supply quality care to the patients, but at a lesser cost," said Dr. James King, a family physician.

The American Academy of Family Physicians supports the idea, but stresses that only non-urgent medical issues can be handled this way. E-visits are best suited for people with easy to diagnose aches and pains, or those who need follow-up visits.

Everyone acknowledges in some cases, the best care still calls for actual human touch.

"Sometimes, it's just having you in the room so that we can carry on a dialogue, so I can examine you and make sure that there's no problems and then order appropriate tests that we can only do in the office to make sure you get the right care you need at the right time," King said

Rodriguez agreed. She still sees her doctor when the problem is more complicated but thinks going online has actually improved her health.

"Without the convenience of the E-visits I would say I would not take as good care of my health as I currently do," she said.

The visits utilize questionnaires to help the doctor properly diagnose any problems in the patient. All of it is documented in the patient chart to refer to for future visits and care.

Guidelines for E-visits:

1. E-visits are available only to established patients who have previously received care from the physician's practice.

2. The patient initiates the process and agrees to e-visit service terms, privacy policy, and charge for receiving asynchronous care from a physician or other qualified health professional

3. Electronic communication occurs over a HIPAA-compliant online connection

4. An e-visit includes the total interchange of online inquiries and other communications associated with this single patient encounter

5. The physician appropriately documents the E-visits, including all pertinent communication related to the encounter, in the patient's medical/health record

6. The physician or other qualified health professional has a defined period of time within which responses to an e-visit request are completed

7. E-visits should be a payable physician service.


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