Will insurers' telemedicine use lead to wrong diagnoses?


Insurers are slowly incorporating telemedicine into their health plan offerings, but some doctors worry the increased use of online visits with patients could lead to wrong diagnoses.

WellPoint began covering online visits for more than 4 million members in 10 states in July, while UnitedHealth launched a telemedicine pilot in January with 310,000 members in Nevada, Bloomberg reported.

Cigna began offering virtual visits to self-insured employers in January, and now about 1 million people are covered through its service, which is "literally flying off the shelves," Larry Gleit, director of product strategy for Cigna, told Bloomberg.

Some doctor groups, however, fear that virtual consults could lead to incorrect diagnoses.

"Just one little touch can make a big difference" to feel where the patient is experiencing pain, R. Adams Dudley, professor of medicine and health policy at the University of California, San Francisco, told Bloomberg. For symptoms that doctors need to personally observe, "some computer screens just don't have the best resolution, and you can't really adjust the lighting."

Though not all doctors share that outlook. For instance, Ian Tong works an online service provider for e-visits and says he can offer accurate medical advice via virtual consults. "You can actually get a long way, move yourself a long way to getting 95 percent certainty of what you think that problem is," Tong told CBS Philly.

And while the American Medical Association believes there are "significant benefits" to telemedicine, it adopted a policy last month calling for certain criteria to be in place when virtual consults are allowed. The AMA said a valid, in-person patient-physician relationship should develop before doctors can use online visits to treat patients, FierceHealthIT previously reported.

Moreover, AMA President Robert Wah said in a speech last month that technology is vital to healthcare; however, it must be used in a balanced way to harness new information while still remaining connected to patients.

To learn more:
- read the Bloomberg article
- see the CBS Philly article

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