Virtual Doctor Visits Are Steadily Growing

Remember the days when you sat in a crowded area, thumbing through the crinkled pages of a three-year-old magazine while waiting to see a doctor or healthcare provider? Thanks to the advances in technology and spurred by the 2020 COVID pandemic, virtual doctor visits, also known as telemedicine, are all the craze today.

virtual doctor visits

The COVID pandemic that began in early 2020 created an already increasing demand for healthcare providers to treat patients remotely. Not all visits to a doctor’s office can be conducted virtually. However, many conditions fall within the scope of successful virtual doctor visits. 

Studies conducted during the 2020 calendar year showed that about 20 percent of all medical visits in the U.S. were virtual. This percentage represented about $29 billion in revenue and a six percent growth in telemedicine visits from the previous year.

A Brief History of Telemedicine

While telemedicine allows a growing number of patients today to consult with healthcare providers via Zoom or Skype, doctors began using a rudimentary version in the late 1870s by diagnosing conditions over the telephone. Telemedicine made more advancements in the early twentieth century using radio. Television accelerated the use around the middle of the twentieth century. 

One example from 1967 occurred when Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital established an interactive network with Logan International Airport via two-way microwave audio and video connections. This allowed physicians at the main hospital to quickly diagnose and treat patients without going to the airport. 

Breakthroughs in audio technology helped create the potential for virtual doctor visits. However, advancements in video technology gave telemedicine the momentum for rural hospitals to gain access to specialists in urban centers. 

Today patients can even use their smartphones to engage in virtual doctor visits. Improvements in smartphone camera technology give healthcare providers access to view patient symptoms and conditions up-close. Doctors can even treat some patients via email or text messages. 

Benefits of Virtual Doctor Visits

One of the major benefits of telemedicine and virtual medical visits is the cost on both the provider and patient sides. Providers can see more patients in a typical workday, thus increasing their revenue. Patients save both time and money by not having to take off work or incur the expense of driving to and from their provider’s office. 

Provider Benefits

  • Lower Overhead Costs: Providers offering virtual office visits can reduce direct costs in staffing and office space. Without having to hire additional personnel or create more extensive space for patient waiting areas, providers can use those funds to maintain the most recent technology. 
  • Reduced Exposure to illness: Let’s face it when healthcare providers conduct in-person doctor visits, they run the risk of viral and bacterial infection. Seeing patients remotely eliminates the possibility of infection to the provider and their staff.
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction: According to recent surveys, happy patients are better patients. When patients don’t have to incur the added time, hassle, and expense of in-person doctor visits, they are happier and more satisfied. Over 62 percent of patients and just under 60 percent of providers reported no significant difference in the quality of a virtual doctor visit versus an in-person visit. 
  • Additional Revenue: Providers have another source of revenue if they can see more patients remotely. Not only do virtual office visits save time, but they also allow the opportunity for more efficient scheduling. Given the requirements for providers to keep Electronic Health Records current, increasing the number of virtual doctor visits may give them more time for administrative tasks. 

Patient Benefits

  • Improved Access to Quality Care: Virtual doctor visits allow patients with disabilities to access the care that may not be available or convenient. Additionally, patients in rural areas without immediate access to specialists can receive immediate care to determine if an in-person visit is necessary.
  • Better Preventive Care: Patients with minor conditions such as a cold or sinus infection are ideal candidates for virtual office visits. Also, patients that are reluctant to see providers are more likely to schedule a virtual doctor visit. This helps providers diagnose and treat minor symptoms that may turn into more severe issues if left untreated. 
  • Convenience: Practically every benefit of virtual office visits center around convenience. Seeing a healthcare provider virtually allows patients to receive treatment in the comfort of their home or office. 
  • Lower Cost: Providers usually charge the same amount whether they see a patient in the office or virtually. The cost-benefit for patients is derived from saving time and expense of getting to the doctor’s office. Ancillary expense savings range from not scheduling childcare to not using vacation or sick days to travel to and from provider visits.   

Disadvantages of Virtual Office Visits

With many advantages to telemedicine visits, there are a few disadvantages to both the provider and patient.

Some of the disadvantages include the fact that not all insurance companies cover virtual doctor visits for patients. The issue of protecting patient privacy is a huge issue. Hackers and cybercriminals have a greater opportunity to access patient records when either the patient or provider uses an internet connection that isn’t secure. 

For providers, licensing issues can arise. Each state has laws that govern licensing requirements for various specialties. In states whose borders are near neighboring states, patients may not have access to certain providers unless they are authorized to practice in that jurisdiction. 

Providers also bear a more significant share of the burden for making sure whatever technology and connection they use are compliant with state and federal privacy laws. 

Another obvious disadvantage to virtual doctor visits is that the provider can’t examine patients as thoroughly as needed. A provider can sometimes spot and treat a symptom or condition when conducting an in-person visit that they may not see during a virtual visit. If the patient doesn’t complain or mention a specific condition, providers may not have the opportunity to recognize the need for further treatment.

Specialties That Use Virtual Doctor Visits Most

virtual doctor visit

Some medical specialties are better suited than others to consistently use telemedicine as a way to treat patients. The ten specialties using virtual doctor office visits the most are:

  • Radiology
  • Psychiatry
  • Internal Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Family Medicine 
  • Dermatology
  • Pediatrics
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Geriatrics
  • Allergy & Immunology

When the pandemic of 2020 swept across the U.S., almost every medical specialty used telemedicine and virtual doctor visits in some capacity. According to the 2020 State of Telemedicine Report, the ten specialties below will see an increase in virtual doctor visits:

  • Anesthesiology
  • General Surgery
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Obstetrics & Gynecology
  • Oncology
  • Physical/Rehab Medicine
  • Gastroenterology
  • Otolaryngology (ENT)
  • Cardiology
  • Plastic Surgery

Virtual Doctor Visits Will Dramatically Increase

The future of telemedicine and virtual doctor visits should increase exponentially in the coming years. 

Rhinogram is a company that offers physician practices and healthcare systems a software platform that allows providers to virtually engage with patients on multiple levels. Besides connecting patients with their healthcare provider via live video calls, their platform also offers virtual waiting rooms, HIPAA-compliant text messaging, and contactless payment processing. 

“When we discuss the increase in telemedicine, one of the growth factors is that more and more patients are gaining access to the technology required to conduct virtual visits,” explained Kathy Ford, Rhinograms President, and Chief Product Officer. “What started in what we call the ‘retail space’ of healthcare is moving into areas that haven’t previously enjoyed the benefits of telemedicine.”

Ford also explained that technology executives in the healthcare industry are devoting a growing percentage of their telemedicine budgets to virtual medicine budgets. She believes this will improve the reach and connection between provider and patient. 

Transcription Services Play An Important Role In Telemedicine

Telemedicine transcription services continue to play a valuable role in telemedicine. Just like an in-person visit to a physician’s office, a virtual visit must be accurately documented and transcribed before being added to the patient’s medical chart. 

Telemedicine and transcription companies both must be HIPAA compliant to maintain patient privacy. Often, this is an issue when some companies chose to utilize non-U.S. citizens to transcribe sensitive medical information from a foreign country. 

Another benefit of using Transcription Outsourcing is that we can easily connect to electronic health record (EHR) systems, making the transfer of information accessible and convenient. If your practice or healthcare company requires quality medical transcription services at a competitive price, visit our medical transcription page or contact us to get in touch with a company executive personally.