Patients increasingly are communicating with their physicians online, but questions remain over reimbursements and security protections for Web-based consultations, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Meredith Ressi, vice president of research at Manhattan Research, said that about 42% of U.S. physicians report having discussed clinical symptoms online with patients. She added that more than 9 million patients report having e-mail communication with their physicians.
About 80 million more patients are interested in having electronic visits with their physicians, according to a 2009 Manhattan Research study of 8,600 U.S. adults.
Health care experts say online visits benefit patients because they often are less expensive and more convenient than office visits.
Virtual visits also benefit physicians by allowing them to respond quickly to minor patient concerns while keeping office appointments available for patients who need in-person treatment.
As of 2009, fewer than 5% of physicians who communicated online with their patients reported receiving compensation.
However, many large insurers have started paying physicians an average of about $30 per online visit, compared with $75 to $100 for office-based consultations. In addition, twelve states have instituted laws requiring health plans to pay for online visits and other telemedicine services.
Physicians typically do not receive payments for using e-mail to conduct "convenience services," such as scheduling appointments or relaying test results.
To receive reimbursement from insurers, physicians are required to conduct online visits via secure Web portals that include high levels of encryption to comply with HIPAA privacy and security rules.
However, most online communication between doctors and patients occurs casually, without secure Web portals, the Times reports.
Lisa Gallagher -- senior director of privacy and security for the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society -- recommended that patients only communicate with their health care provider over secure websites that require a username and password (Zamosky, Los Angeles Times, 6/7).