The Internet & New Opportunities for Women Physicians

Juggling a career and childcare responsibilities is a difficult task for any physician mom but recent technological advances have opened new opportunities for a home-based practice. The Internet is changing the way we practice medicine. Patients want to communicate with their physicians using e-mail and are willing to change doctors to get this service (1). Unlike the telephone consultation, an online consultation is structured and provides automatic documentation. It is estimated that 20% of all office visits could be handled over the internet (2). Results of a recent survey show that e-health consumers are willing to pay for online services such as physician consultations (3). Consequently, women physicians now have the ability to use the Internet to see all or some of their patients on-line from home while the children play or sleep.

The main concerns over the use of the Internet to practice medicine are regulations by State Boards of Medical Examiners and compliance with proposed HIPPA regulations on the secure transmission of medical data. Most states allow physicians to use the Internet for patient care providing a patient/doctor relationship is established. However, standard e-mail does not meet the proposed HIPPA standards. As a result, companies have developed systems that allow physicians to interact with patients online in a secure and confidential manner.

The main focus of MedFusion is to empower physicians with an Internet-based communication tool called the "Virtual Office Visit ™" which enables physicians to communicate, consult, and prescribe for their patients in a secure, medically structured, online environment. The patient is required to pay for the visit at the time of care, which eliminates the hassle of billing and collection. The physician controls what is seen online by selecting the areas of care. If the visit results in a prescription, the prescription is electronically transmitted to an online pharmacy or call-in center. The automatic documentation of the online visit and electronic submission of prescriptions will help reduce medical error.

The VirtualMedicalGroup.com is a national network of physicians that run an online practice. To be considered for employment, a physician must be board certified, have three years experience and have Internet access. Physicians are required to log on to their computer twice a day to see patients. They are paid per patient visit. Only non-urgent, simple medical problems are seen online. Prior to being seen, the patient completes a full medical record in addition to answering specific problem related questions. The physician may ask as many additional questions as necessary to render a diagnosis. The treatment plan may be medical advice, referral for a traditional visit, or medication.

Clearly the Internet offers an opportunity for a physician mom to be able to stay home with the baby and still practice medicine. She may choose a pure online practice of medicine or may want to enhance an existing practice by adding online visit capabilities.

Footnotes:
* Deloitte Research/Cyber Dialogue Study 2000
* Price Waterhouse Coopers, Healthcare 2010 Survey 1999
* e-Business Intelligence System, 9/15/00

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