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Internet consults, emails, and video chats with physicians have been proven to be effective ways for busy or far-flung patients to get answers to their simpler healthcare questions without leaving the couch.  For parents of children with the sniffles or a worker who can’t take time off the job to have a skin rash diagnosed, telemedicine can save time for patients – and for providers, who benefit from eased schedules and fewer administrative costs associated with a typical consult.  Insurance plans are recognizing the positives at an increasingly rapid rate, with national insurer Cigna being the latest to jump onto the telehealth bandwagon.Self-insured customers of Cigna plans will be able to go online or call MDLive’s telehealth service, which pairs physicians with customers almost instantly, around the clock.  “MDLive’s telehealth services enable our increasingly mobile and time-constrained customers to schedule a virtual consult with a board-certified physician and resolve a non-emergency medical issue in less than one hour,” said Jackie Aube, Product Development Director at Cigna. “It’s a cost-effective and convenient alternative to an office visit with your primary care physician.”Cigna joins other big name insurers such as United Healthcare, WellPoint, and Aetna in offering telehealth amenities to their customers, even as thousands of Medicare beneficiaries cope with losing access to the budding service.  “Congress has long overlooked the need for telemedicine services for residents of urban counties, despite the fact that they often suffer similar problems accessing healthcare.  Now, because of a statistical quirk, even more people will lose coverage of these services, reducing access and care,” said Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association in response to the redrawing of county maps that changed the definition of rural and urban areas. “Medicare should cover remote health services for all beneficiaries, regardless of location,” Linkour urged. “We call on Congress to ensure that existing beneficiaries will not lose coverage for these services.”With three-quarters of patients reporting they’re perfectly comfortable with interacting with their physicians online, telehealth aligns perfectly with upcoming patient engagement requirements that are part of Stage 2 and 3 of meaningful use.  Encouraging patients to use online tools such as portals that provide secure email transactions with nurses and physicians, as well as electronic prescription renewals and appointment setting.  “Telehealth enables [patients] to get what they want and where they want it, and the technology trade-off is a moot point. Assuming that there’s adequate security, most consumers are comfortable with health records in the cloud,” said Kathy English of Cisco, which produced the survey.As the telehealth market expands, improving patient satisfaction and reducing the length of hospital stays, internet appointments are likely to become an increasingly common piece of insurance coverage and provider offerings.  “Telehealth is no longer something that’s just being piloted,” saidRandy Parker, CEO of MDLive. “It’s something that’s accepted as part of the way the healthcare of the future will have to work.”

Art Jones‘s insight:

It’s coming together/

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