Employers, Insurers Embracing Telehealth, but Barriers Remain

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More health insurers and employers are beginning to offer virtual physician visits via telehealth technology as a way to curb costs and improve access to care, Kaiser Health News/USA Today reports.

Aetna, Cigna and United Healthcare are among the insurers that are offering virtual physician visits. Employers such as Delta Airlines and General Electric also are providing such services.

Proponents of virtual physician visits cite several benefits, including lower-cost consultations and a greater availability of appointments.

Obstacles to Growth in Virtual Visits

However, many state medical boards make it difficult for health care providers to participate in telehealth programs because they require a prior physician-patient relationship before virtual consultations can take place. Some medical boards also require a prior medical exam before allowing virtual appointments, making telehealth consultations especially difficult for physicians and patients who are located in different states.

Gary Capistrant -- senior director of public policy at the American Telemedicine Association -- said, "The situation seems to be getting worse, not better."

Humayun Chaudhry -- CEO of the Federation of State Medical Boards -- said that state boards require physicians to be licensed for treating patients in their states because they want patients to be able to seek help at a state agency if they are injured. Chaudhry said, "It's about accountability," adding, "We want to enable telemedicine to flourish, but at the end of the day we want patients protected."

However, he said that some medical boards are easing restrictions, noting that nine boards in recent years have passed rules to make the licensing process easier for physicians (Galewitz, Kaiser Health News/USA Today, 5/6).


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