Patients increasingly are making appointments to meet with physicians online via web cameras, MyHealthNewsDaily/Yahoo! News reports.
Online chat services such as Skype allow doctors to meet with patients in a quick and convenient capacity, according to MyHealthNewsDaily/Yahoo! News. The services also allow for specialty physicians, such as plastic surgeons, to interact with patients in distant cities.
In addition, the technology helps patients with illnesses confine their germs to the home.
According to Gary Capistrant -- senior director of public policy at the American Telemedicine Association -- there are limited data on how many doctors use webcams at their practices because no agency tracks or requires doctors to report when they use webcams.
However, he said the number is "absolutely increasing" as patients gain more ways to access video chat programs, such as through smart phones.
Physicians using webcams to consult with patients soon could see significant obstacles, as state laws likely will grow more restrictive as technology advances, according to Capistrant.
Physicians must be licensed in the state where their practice is located and in any state where they see patients through videoconferencing. However, Capistrant said that some states have agreements with others to accommodate doctors who see patients across state lines.
In addition, Capistrant said doctors must make sure their communication with patients meets HIPAA security requirements.
Physicians also might be forced to reconsider how they bill patients as the practice of using webcams becomes more common. Most doctors charge patients the same price for in-person visits as they do for a web-based appointment. However, technology could shorten the length of many appointments -- perhaps even reducing certain exchanges to a text message, according to Capistrant.
Finding a Balance
Doctors say that in-person visits still are preferable because they often can pick up on nuances not obvious through video.
Certain physicians will agree to use webcams only if they already have seen the patient several times in person (Chan, MyHealthNewsDaily/Yahoo! News, 1/2).