Published in the Asbury Park Press.
A new poll has found that only 16 percent of New Jerseyans have ever used an electronic device to receive medical care from a doctor or other medical profession.
But given the results of the poll, which solicited consumers’ views about utilizing telemedicine for various types of care, and legislation pending in Trenton, that is likely to change — perhaps dramatically — in the years ahead.
The poll, conducted by the Eagleton Center for Public Interest and New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, tested attitudes about using video calls, text and other technology to access health care. It found majorities were willing to try telemedicine for a variety of health-related reasons, including initial and follow-up medical consultations and prescription refills.
Seventh-nine percent were “very comfortable” or “somewhat comfortable” with using teleconferencing for medication consultations and prescription refills. Sixty-eight percent were comfortable using telemedicine in an initial consultation to determine if an in-person visit is needed.
New Jerseyans are comfortable by a smaller margin with sending and receiving personal medical information via an electronic device or phone (53 percent to 46 percent). Only 49 percent are comfortable with receiving some type of therapy or counseling via technology.
About three in 10 polled said they would be more likely to choose telehealth methods over in- person visits if they could have a longer visit, could receive care sooner or spend less.
The potential advantages to consumers are many: The convenience of being able to receive consultations from home, not having to sit forever in a waiting room before being seen by the doctor and being able to draw more easily on the advice of medical professionals from beyond the region and even the United States.
However, there are legitimate concerns about the spread of telemedicine that need to be addressed. Some of them are being hashed out in legislative committees, which are working to provide a framework for the manner in which telemedicine is practiced and by whom, and for how services are billed and providers reimbursed. The latter is no small matter to health professionals, some of whom view telemedicine as a threat to their practices. In a bow to them, one bill dealing with reimbursement would require Medicaid, NJ FamilyCare and various insurers to provide coverage and payment for services provided through telemedicine “at least at the same rate” that is applicable when the services are delivered through in-person contact or consultation.