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Telemedicine Starts with the Doctor's Voice

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, August 7, 2012

For the past year, Gordon has been on-call part-time for Consult A Doctor, Inc., a company I first encountered at the American Telemedicine Association conference this spring. I wanted to know what kind of physician would work for this kind of service. My curiosity was further piqued when Aetna announced a partnership with Consult A Doctor in June.

So this is the story of one physician, but also of a healthcare industry in trouble and in transition. What does Aetna see in a service often summoned as an app on a mobile phone, which may simply result in a phone consultation between a patient and a doctor?

For answers, I turned to Gordon. Initially resistant to the computer age, Gordon grew to understand its uses and the role it would play in this age of primary care physician shortages. "Within the next five or so years, a third of the practicing physicians are going to be gone," he says. "With that as the backdrop, I was always fascinated with the concept of the computer and advancing medical care through it."

Like the rest of us, Gordon's seen the efforts to cope with the growing shortage of nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants, and the shift toward retail urgent care substituting for the tradition visit to a doctor's office or the emergency department.

He also knows that the future promises more than the ubiquitous smartphone of today. Two-way video conferencing got a big boost from Skype and Apple's FaceTime, but interoperability keeps it from widespread adoption, at least for now.

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