The American Academy of Family Physicians is teaming up with a vendor to roll out a telemedicine platform that will enable member physicians to conduct online consultations with patients.

The AAFP has announced a collaboration with Zipnosis on the project, which will use a platform that will offer an online service to enable patients to provide symptom and health history information for diagnosis and treatment by their physician.

“Patients want quick and easy access to healthcare, but that convenience should not come at the cost of the relationship they have with their family physician,’ says Steven Waldren, MD, a family medicine specialist and director of the Alliance for eHealth Innovation program at AAFP. “Offering this new telemedicine platform gives our family physician members another tool through which they can care for patients.”

Steven Waldren, MD
Steven Waldren, MD

Pilot testing is being done now, with the service expected to be available in late 2018.

In a survey last year of its 129,000 members about new programs and services, the AAFP found that one clear theme was the desire to have a virtual care service that more closely links doctors with their patients, and this offering is in response to those requests, Waldren says.

In a traditional telemedicine consultation, a clinician participates in a video and audio interaction with the patient, assessing the patient’s condition and determining what treatment will be delivered, Waldren says. The physician knows the patient and knows the patient’s health history.

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A telehealth consultation, also known as a virtual visit, gathers patient information via an online adaptive interview that includes use of clinical algorithms to compile patient symptom and health information for diagnosis and treatment to guide patients to the appropriate level of care, whether they are online or in person, according to Rebecca Hafner-Fogarty, senior vice president of policy and strategy at Zipnosis.

For example, if the patient likely has a sinus infection, a tool will bring up a series of questions such as whether a fever is present and if the patient has a history of sinus troubles. An online interview enables both patients and providers to seek and deliver care from any Internet-connected device, Hafner-Fogarty adds.

Mid-level clinicians often handle virtual visits, such as a diabetic patient meeting with a nutritionist or nurse to verify that medications are working and the patient’s weight is acceptable. However, if a physician or mid-level clinician is involved in making a treatment plan, it is a telemedicine session regardless of whether or not there is live video, Waldren explains.

Waldren acknowledges that the decision of physicians to adopt telemedicine technology can be a difficult one; it can be costly and physicians may not know how to start, or they have bought a telemedicine system and it did not work well. The growing ability of consumers to use virtual visits can be concerning to physicians because they don’t know when an established patient has consulted virtually on line with another clinician, so the regular doctor does not know that the patient may have gotten medication or other services elsewhere, which can result in fragmented care.

Physicians using traditional telemedicine, however, are better able to support continuity of care with patient data stored in electronic health records systems, Waldren contends.

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