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Telepresence Challenges Medical Practice Models

Cisco finds doctors must alter reimbursement and scheduling practices to gain benefits of videoconferencing.

According to Safavi, videoconferencing sessions demand that doctors organize their time not only with patients but often with other specialists as well, and this can be a difficult task.

"If a doctor wants to connect to a specialist, how are they going to know that the specialist is going to be available? Are specialists going to change the way they work their time? How do you organize around that?" Safavi said. "You have to start thinking about how do you organize a group of doctors for unpredictable demand. It really is a very different design issue than a traditional physician office appointment model," Safavi added.

Nevertheless, Cisco executives believe that the shifting healthcare environment will demand that doctors increasingly use telepresence technology. They point to the federal government's expectation that an additional 32 million people will seek health insurance coverage under the new healthcare reform law, while at the same time a shortage of doctors persists. Cisco is banking on the need for more doctors to use videoconferencing as they collaborate with each other and coordinate the exchange of information to bridge the gap in healthcare.

"You're never going to solve that problem by trying to train doctors. You're going to have to figure out how to use technology to create scale and to use our resources to reach more patients," Safavi said.

Healthcare delivery organizations are also operating with tighter budgets, and while the reimbursement argument matters for some, telepresence technology can defray costs in other areas.

"A number of hospitals are thinking about the investment as an alternative to the capital expense of building clinics or emergency rooms," Safavi said. "Many of them say even if the reimbursement isn't perfect, I can figure out how to make this work because I have other economic considerations that justify this and that actually cover the cost," Safavi added.

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