E-commerce Provides Patient Ownership in Health Care

With health information available online, the patient/provider relationship is changing.

By Ida Landry, CPC

The Internet and telephone have become increasingly popular methods for providing medical assistance and enhancing patients’ health care experience. Combined with supplementing face-to-face office visits, these alternative services offer a quality of care not seen since the days of the house call.

Revised Coding Paved the Way

Recent coding revisions help pave the way for greater acceptance of telephone and Internet-based health services.

Telephone service codes 99371-99373 were deleted in the 2009 CPT® codebook. These codes held no relative value units (RVUs), and were not paid by any insurance company. Tracking and trending purposes were the only reason for coding these services. Mostly because these codes held no monetary value, the health care community saw no reason to use them. To replace 99371-99373, CPT® introduced new telephone services codes 98966-98968 (for use by non-physician providers) and 99441-99443 (for physicians).

Also added in 2009 were online patient service codes: 98969 for non-physician health care providers and 99444 for physicians.

Services appropriately provided and reported with the new codes now had a dollar value, which prompted providers to respond by offering telephone and Internet services more broadly. No longer was health care restricted to face-to-face visits. Clinics such as Texas’ Internet Medical Clinics are on the forefront of health care and are paving the way for alternative medical services through the use of the Internet.

Change in Patient’s Health Care Habits

The term “e-patient” describes patients who are using the Internet to find or receive health care information or services. With the Internet comes the ability to research health information online, which has changed the patient/provider relationship. For example, e-patients often have a more comprehensive understanding of chronic conditions upon seeing a health care professional.

Research has tried to identify who e-patients are. In “The Social Life of Health Information,” authors Susannah Fox and Sydney Jones state (on page 8), “83 percent of internet users, or 61 percent of U.S. adults, have looked online for information … ranging from information about a specific disease, a certain treatment, alternative medicine, health insurance, doctors, hospitals, and ways to stay healthy.” These same individuals are learning there are new ways to get health care services without stepping foot in their doctor’s office or a hospital. Places like the Internet Medical Clinics offer services online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An established patient can get urgent prescriptions and take care of basic health care needs without leaving his or her home, and providers can now receive payment from health insurance companies for these health care services.

Online Care Offers a Win/Win

The Internet has taken health care to a new level when it comes to helping patients stay healthy. “E-patients” have started to take ownership of their ailments. Federal legislation, such as the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinic Health (HITECH) Act of 2009, has set guidelines for health care regarding e-commerce and protection of patient health information. The creation of new codes and payment of those codes has opened up new avenues of patient care.

Although still at its infancy, e-commerce and health care offers a positive relationship that could benefit everyone. As more clinics like Internet Medical Clinic find financial and patient health benefits through e-commerce, this trend will become mainstream.

 

Ida Landry, CPC, has worked in health care since 1995, and acquired CPC® certification in 2004. Ida holds a Bachelor of Science in Health Administration and is working on her Master of Business Administration (MBA), with a focus on health care management. She enjoys teaching and sharing her knowledge of coding.

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