Will insurers pay for online consultations?

July 1, 2006

An increasing number of health insurers are beginning to reimburse physicians for the time they spend dealing with patients' nonurgent medical problems online. Health insurers-including Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida-already offer such reimbursements, and Cigna will begin making these payments next year.

An increasing number of health insurers are beginning to reimburse physicians for the time they spend dealing with patients' nonurgent medical problems online. Health insurers-including Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida-already offer such reimbursements, and Cigna will begin making these payments next year.

But there may be some resistance from physicians: Despite the availability of encrypted Web systems and early-adopter surveys that show the efficiency of this type of communication, doctors do not seem ready to embrace the technology in their practices. A recent nationwide survey of physicians found that 90% have high-speed Internet access, but only 25% use it to communicate with patients. Moreover, only a third of the remaining physicians are even interested in using the Internet as part of their patient care.

Those that are using the technology have found some benefit, though. Dr. Charles Batson, who has a family practice in Florida, receives $27 from Blue Cross for each online consultation. While that money won't make him rich any time soon, he found that, 7 months after offering this type of consultation to patients, efficiency in his office rose and patients expressed satisfaction with the new system. "From a business perspective, if you have happy patients, it will have a positive spin financially in the long run," he told the Orlando Sentinel (5/15/06).