The AAFP has launched a new telemedicine software platform designed specifically for family physicians working in small and medium-sized practices with fewer than 20 physicians. Called AAFP Virtual Care, the platform is powered by the virtual care technology company Zipnosis and aims to provide physicians and their patients with an easy way to connect.
This new member resource comes at a most opportune time, according to Steven Waldren, M.D., director of the AAFP's Alliance for eHealth Innovation.
"We've seen a significant increase in the adoption of telemedicine across the United States, with the number of visits accelerating exponentially," Waldren told AAFP News. In fact, about 20 percent of AAFP members currently use telemedicine in some fashion, and that number is growing, he added.
America's health care consumers are showing a strong interest, as well.
"Patients, including many seen by family physicians, are looking for access to telemedicine, and there are plenty of commercial entities out there willing to provide that service to consumers," said Waldren.
- Family physicians can now sign up to purchase AAFP Virtual Care and add telemedicine to their list of patient services.
- Virtual visits are requested by patients with minor complaints; adding them frees up physician time for more complicated patient care.
- Patients pay out-of-pocket for virtual visits, and physicians set their prices for these asynchronous care and video visits.
"Physicians and nurse practitioners with licenses in multiple states are able to sit in an office somewhere and provide telemedicine to patients with whom they have no established relationship at all," he added.
"The AAFP wants to ensure that family physicians can compete against those freestanding telemedicine services so that patients will get the longitudinal care they need and deserve," said Waldren.
How It Works
The telemedicine platform is easy to use. Patients enter a website branded to a physician's medical practice -- think of it as a virtual storefront -- and request a telemedicine visit.
The patient is prompted to complete a brief online interview detailing the chief complaint and asking further questions. If, for instance, she describes pain on urination, the application asks her about flank pain, fever, etc.
"The point is to rule out pyelonephritis or some other complication that would indicate the need for an office visit rather than treatment in an asynchronous manner," Waldren explained.
After all the appropriate information has been gathered, the practice is notified that a virtual visit has been established. "The physician signs in to see all the information the patient has relayed and, in this instance, easily diagnoses an uncomplicated female urinary tract infection (UTI)," said Waldren.
Other common conditions appropriate for treatment via AAFP Virtual Care include
- low back pain;
- shingles; and
- other minor skin conditions, such as eczema and contact dermatitis.
In the example cited above, once a diagnosis is indicated, the tool provides a list of appropriate antibiotics for a UTI, generates a note for the patient's chart and creates a patient handout describing what needs to be done. If a prescription is required, the patient picks a pharmacy from a list provided and the script is sent to the pharmacy through Surescripts(surescripts.com) to be filled.
Sign Up Today for AAFP Virtual Care
Family physicians who have been eyeing telemedicine as an opportunity to expand patient access to quality care and increase revenue flow will be pleased to hear that AAFP Virtual Care is up and running full speed ahead. Members can sign up today and see what a difference telemedicine can make.
Family physicians headed to New Orleans Oct. 9-13 for the AAFP's 2018 Family Medicine Experience can get a firsthand peek at how the virtual care platform performs. Take advantage of a product demo at the AAFP's Office of the Future exhibit in the Expo Hall in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.
"It takes, on average, less than two minutes for the physician to review everything, perform the medical decision-making, take action, document and provide patient education," said Waldren.
The asynchronous visit described above is often the most beneficial to practices and patients because it doesn't create much disruption in the physician's workflow, said Waldren.
However, "If a particular patient warrants some additional discussion, or the physician really needs to see 'the whites of the patient's eyes,' the application can step that patient up to a video visit," said Waldren.
In addition, an automatic triage function kicks in based on a patient's initial responses to questions. "If that patient said she had fever and flank pain, she would have gotten a message directing her to contact the physician's office immediately or to go to an urgent care clinic," noted Waldren.
Praise From FP
Family physician Robert Patterson, M.D., of Sanford, N.C., has been testing the AAFP Virtual Care platform for months and couldn't be happier.
"It works great and is a wonderful tool for my patients that need me but do not have time to leave home or work to come see me. Also, folks who just plain do not feel like driving to the office can get care," he told AAFP News.
With Hurricane Florence bearing down on North Carolina, Patterson said every business in town is in the midst of shutting down, likely for days. He is not. "I am advertising that I will be open -- virtually -- all week through the storm and its aftermath," he said.
Patients use the service for a variety of issues. "They see me virtually for rechecks, skin lesions, discussions of lab work, urgent medical issues like colds, sinuses, UTIs, gastroenteritis, and more. Patients are happy because the visit is cheaper than alternatives, and they can be 'seen' by their normal doctor who knows them," said Patterson. Patients also appreciate the convenience factor and expanded hours.
As for the physician's bottom line, there are perks there, as well. "Right now, virtual care adds six to 10 patients to my schedule each day, and it actually makes my day easier. It also cuts overhead as I require less staff assistance with this."
Return on Investment
Only AAFP members and other physicians/health care professionals working in a member's practice are eligible for AAFP Virtual Care.
Practices must sign on for a 12-month term. The cost works out to as little as $159 per month for each authorized clinician user plus a one-time setup fee. Complete pricing and payment options are available in an FAQ that also answers a myriad of other questions about the virtual care platform.
Importantly, physicians do not bill this service through insurance; rather, each practice determines how much to charge patients for asynchronous and video visits.
"Patients are paying for this service out-of-pocket and are doing so willingly," said Waldren. As for physicians, "If they charge in the $30 range, they would need to conduct just over six virtual visits per month to pay for the service for the year."
Waldren said he knows of a family physician who charges $75 for an asynchronous visit and $100 for video visits. "He saw his return on investment in the first month and will make money on the venture the rest of the year."
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