Medical Establishment Is Slow to Embrace Telemedicine Options

Published March 1, 2008

Dr. Allen Wenner, a family practice physician, works for Prime Time Medical Software in Lexington, South Carolina, where he develops programs that collect data from patients to help doctors diagnose more quickly.

Wenner also uses telemedicine, or e-health technology, in his office. He credits it with saving him time while allowing him to increase his caseload.

The technology also has helped him make more accurate diagnoses, saving his patients the cost of numerous unnecessary tests, Wenner says.

Conservatism Prevents Innovation

Despite the clear benefits of telemedicine, some insurers and doctors are slow to embrace change, Wenner says. “If you’re under 35, you’re ready to embrace [e-health technology], because you intuitively know I’m right [about the need to integrate technology into health care],” Wenner said.

The entrenched medical culture is still committed to traditional practices such as face-to-face visits, Wenner added, meaning the older generation may have to completely work its way out of the profession before technology can be fully integrated into medicine.

Devon Herrick, Ph.D., a senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis, agrees. In a recent report he noted several factors, including regulations on interstate practice and control of the money spent on health care, prevent the public from being able to enjoy the full benefits of telemedicine.

The study, “Convenient Care and Telemedicine,” estimated patients control only 13 cents of each dollar spent on medical care, which gives providers little incentive to pay for the technological upgrades required for the integration of telemedicine into their practices.

This often leaves the job of funding those upgrades to third parties, such as insurance providers, employers, or the government, the study notes.

Jillian Melchior