A stable revenue stream and variable lifestyle options are among the benefits accruing to doctors active in telemedicine and telehealth, according to proponents of the related technologies.
Telehealth and telemedicine are often used interchangeably, explained Roy Schoenberg, MD, president and CEO of American Well, a Boston-based telehealth company, but they are not the same.
Telemed is technology used to create greater efficiencies within the healthcare system said Schoenberg, while telehealth is technology that connects doctors with patients.
Semantics aside, both can bring money, convenience and flexibility into the lives of their users, he said.
Telemed changes the way doctors do business, said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association. “[Telemedicine technologies] are very simple things that create a revolution...,” he continued.
For instance, doctors can install automation services for tasks like getting and processing patient vital signs and allowing patients to access their lab results via phone or digitally, Linkous said.
These automation services are reasonably priced because they can essentially be purchased off-the-shelf, Linkous commented. The return on investment, he added, is the big savings on staffing costs because doctors won’t have to pay, for example, a nurse, to take patients’ vital signs and enter that data into the practice’s system.
While physicians on the whole haven’t figured out the benefits of using telemed, some, mostly in metropolitan areas, are starting to use these services to streamline care delivery, which increases convenience for patients, and can be a real competitive advantage, Linkous said.
Teleheath, too, can set doctors apart competitively, while bringing in revenue.
Timothy Howard, a family physician in Alabama, didn’t know anything about telehealth when he was looking for a way to supplement his income so he could put his four children through college.
He joined Teladoc, a national telehealth provider with doctors in a variety of specialties based all over the country.
In the three-and-a-half years he’s been with Teladoc, he has been able to finance his kids’ college educations without taking on debt, matched what he makes from his office practice, and, in the last year, reduced his office work by about 20 percent, which lessens his stress and makes practicing more enjoyable.
With a connection to the Internet, Howard can log on to the Teladoc system from anywhere – his home, office, even abroad – and he works as many or as little hours as he wants.
“I take care of a patient and I get paid X – that’s a very attractive option,” he said. “… in two weeks, I get a direct deposit in my account…There’s no third party holding back or sending you a percentage [of the service provided].”
While Howard admits that he’s a businessman by default, he thinks telehealth as a business model for doctors is not only viable, but growing. “I literally think we’re on the cutting edge of this and it’s already ballooning,” he said.
And for many doctors, who like him at age 51, are starting to think about or are thinking about retirement, telehealth offers a chance to slow down while staying in medicine.
“I can truly back down from the pace I’m keeping in my office and I have a lot more viability for a lot longer,” he said. “This is really practicing medicine – and the part that I love, as well.”