A conversation with Mary E. Reed, Kaiser research scientist

Telemedicine is good medicine for the doctor–patient relationship

Managing Editor Frank Diamond recently caught up with Mary E. Reed and, via email, asked her about the telemedicine research findings she and her coauthors at Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research recently reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

As you know, many of our readers are clinician executives at health insurance plans. What’s their takeaway?

Mary E. Reed

Reed: The main takeaway is that when patients have a scheduled video visit for primary care—a visit that is basically seamlessly linked to their own doctors and health records—they find it convenient, of high quality, and that it strengthened patient-physician relationships.

This model of integrating video visits is unique and different from many consumer-facing telemedicine services that function separately from patients’ usual source of care.

We also found that patients who would have needed to make arrangements, like taking time off from work for an in-person visit, were more likely to say the video visit reduced their in-person visits.

I thought the focus on PCPs was interesting. How did they get paid for the telemedicine visits? The same as a regular office visit?

Reed: Yes, physicians don’t receive any difference in payment (salary) based on the type of visits they provide.

Was the copay for patients the same?

Reed: The video visits we studied were available at no charge to patients. This might be different from any copay that their benefit plan has for office visits.

Did the doctors say that telemedicine added or detracted from the infamous “hassle factor?”

Reed: We didn’t do any direct data collection from doctors in this study, but in this setting I wouldn’t expect much change in administrative process for providers.

Can telemedicine work for a health plan that isn’t an integrated health care provider such as Kaiser?

Reed: Well, since this study was of patient experiences, the short answer is I would imagine it could certainly “work” for patients elsewhere.

Of course, different health plans might have other issues to work out.

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