In an interview with Healthcare Informatics, physician Timothy Howard explains how switching to telemedicine full time helped him reconnect with patients and see the future of medicine.
Timothy Howard began providing virtual consultations for Teladoc six years ago. At the time, Teladoc served 4,000 members; today, it serves 8 million.
Prior to switching to Teladoc full time, Howard says changes in health care like the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) meant he was having to cut his patient workload at his private practice by 25%. Now, instead of focusing on what "buttons to punch in the office" EHR, and hiring staff "to haggle with insurance companies," Howard says telemedicine keeps him "focused on the patient."
Patients are attracted to telemedicine because it does not require a time-consuming trip to the doctor's office, works well with their schedule, and tends to be more affordable. Telemedicine can also make financial sense for some doctors, Howard observes.
At Teladoc, he has no overhead costs and is paid $40 dollars per consultation. During flu season, Howard sees over 40 patients a day. Overall, he says that is "as good as private practice," in terms of compensation.
Although Howard can set his own schedule, he says it important to set limits so he does not get burned out. When he is on call and a patient requests a consultation, Howard is notified by text or email. Most sessions take fewer than 10 minutes, but it is not uncommon to have 15 patients waiting to be seen.
While Howard acknowledges that mid-level providers, such as nurses and physicians assistants, can play a role in meeting rising patient demand, he argues that telemedicine is a "cost efficient" way of delivering the unique care that a doctor can provide. "If we really want to keep medicine excellent as far as quality we give patients, [telemedicine] has got to become mainstream," he says (Perna, Healthcare Informatics, 1/22).
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