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January 24, 2024
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David Burda
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Economics Innovation System Dynamics
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Diagnosing the Revenue Potential of Telemedicine

There’s an intriguing dance taking place right now among patients, physicians, telemedicine technology vendors, regulators and healthcare finance leaders. I’m not sure who will take the lead eventually, but it will be fascinating to watch.

Patients like the convenience of telemedicine. Doctors don’t like patients bugging them by phone, email or text. Telemedicine technology vendors salivate over the market potential of asynchronous physician-patient communication. Regulators want to proceed cautiously as they try to balance online visits with in-person visits. And healthcare finance leaders are calculating the profit possibilities from a more digital healthcare delivery system.

That’s my reading-between-the-lines takeaway from a short research letter published earlier this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Five researchers from the University of California at San Francisco, Trilliant Health and Harvard looked at e-visit billing trends from January 2020 through September 2022. The e-visit study pool was claims paid by traditional Medicare, Medicare Advantage plans and commercial payers for electronic visits initiated by existing (versus new) patients with their doctors of three different time durations: 5 to 10 minutes; 11 to 20 minutes; or 21 minutes or longer.

Here’s what the researchers found:

  • 44.8% of the e-visits were 5-10 minutes long followed by 11-20 minutes (40.4%) and 21 minutes or longer (14.8%).
  • The most common medical conditions for the three e-visit durations, from shortest to longest respectively, were sinus infection, upper respiratory infection and high blood pressure.
  • The average number of e-visit claims per month was 100,541 in 2022 compared with 77,164 in 2021 and 103,127 in 2020.
  • The number of unique providers who billed for at least 50 e-visits per quarter rose to 471 in the third quarter of 2022 from 337 in the third quarter of 2021, a nearly 40% increase.

“Billing for e-visits peaked at the onset of the pandemic, fell, and then rebounded slowly, whereas the number of organizations billing e-visits has increased since mid-2021,” the researchers said. “Together these findings suggest health system interest in e-visit billing has evolved from a short-term pandemic necessity to a potential long-term source of revenue.”

One man’s convenience is another man’s profit margin.

Thanks for reading.

About the Author

David Burda

David Burda began covering healthcare in 1983 and hasn’t stopped since. Dave writes this monthly column “Burda on Healthcare,” contributes weekly blog posts, manages our weekly newsletter 4sight Friday, and hosts our weekly Roundup podcast. Dave believes that healthcare is a business like any other business, and customers — patients — are king. If you do what’s right for patients, good business results will follow.

Dave’s personnel experiences with the healthcare system both as a patient and family caregiver have shaped his point of view. It’s also been shaped by covering the industry for 40 years as a reporter and editor. He worked at Modern Healthcare for 25 years, the last 11 as editor.

Prior to Modern Healthcare, he did stints at the American Medical Record Association (now AHIMA) and the American Hospital Association. After Modern Healthcare, he wrote a monthly column for Twin Cities Business explaining healthcare trends to a business audience, and he developed and executed content marketing plans for leading healthcare corporations as the editorial director for healthcare strategies at MSP Communications.

When he’s not reading and writing about healthcare, Dave spends his time riding the trails of DuPage County, IL, on his bike, tending his vegetable garden and daydreaming about being a lobster fisherman in Maine. He lives in Wheaton, IL, with his lovely wife of 40 years and his three children, none of whom want to be journalists or lobster fishermen.

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