Audio-Only Telemedicine: Docs Say Payment Falls Short

July 15, 2020 by Christen Aldrich

Filed under COVID-19 for Employers, COVID-19 for the Workforce

Last modified July 16, 2020

Months into the COVID crisis, doctors and patients have become accustomed to telemedicine. But some clinicians still face difficulties getting patients on video calls — and have to pay the price. In a recent article by MedPage Today, Todd Maltese, DO, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist in Ronkonkoma, New York, discusses how he closed his brick-and-mortar clinic at the start of the pandemic, maintaining his practice with virtual visits. As months passed, video calls got easier — but not for all patients.

“You will still get those patients who don’t have a computer with a webcam, or who don’t have a smartphone,” Maltese said. “Most patients are older, and a lot of them have trouble getting on.” When patients are unable to access video technology, Maltese conducts their visit over the phone. But there’s one issue: the reimbursement loss is significant.

Maltese said that a 15-minute video call might be reimbursed anywhere between $50 and $75. For a 20-minute phone call, however, he gets reimbursed between $10 and $20. “It’s a huge difference,” Maltese said. “Just because I can’t see their face doesn’t mean that I still can’t make the same complex diagnosis, and come up with a complex treatment plan. So, to spend 20 minutes on the phone and get 80% less doesn’t make sense.”

Doctors are still struggling to get reimbursed for telemedicine appointments. Insurers have instituted pay parity policies between telephone-only and video visits because of the crisis. But despite policy expansions, providers say that compensation is still unclear.

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