Pilot programs to reimburse physicians for online consultations

April 1, 2006

Self-insured employers are beginning to test the idea of reimbursing physicians for delivering care online. Earlier this year, Microsoft Corp., Premera Blue Cross, and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle launched an 18-month program, which would reimburse participating Virginia Mason physicians who consult online with Microsoft employees and their families. And in 2007, Cisco Systems plans to launch a similar program.

Self-insured employers are beginning to test the idea of reimbursing physicians for delivering care online. Earlier this year, Microsoft Corp., Premera Blue Cross, and Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle launched an 18-month program, which would reimburse participating Virginia Mason physicians who consult online with Microsoft employees and their families. And in 2007, Cisco Systems plans to launch a similar program.

The Microsoft pilot program is being watched closely to determine whether there is evidence of cost-effectiveness or improved health outcomes from online consultations. If it produces these results, other employers may follow Microsoft's lead.

For physicians, online consultations may not have an initial impact on their practices. Physicians who have a high volume of online consultations average one or two a week, which requires up to 10 minutes to process.