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Overcoming the Physician Shortage with Telemedicine

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Over the last few days, we’ve been talking about some of the developments taking place within healthcare that will directly affect the way in which physicians deliver care.

Depending on where your job search is leading you, it is entirely possible that you will be administering care using telemedicine. At least, that’s how one prominent Virginia healthcare system is planning to address the physician shortage in its service area.

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In the fall of 2012, Sentara Healthcare partnered with telehealth company MDLIVE to offer telehealth to its patient population. This was the culmination of a strategic plan launched by the system in 2006, which directly addressed the inevitable shortage of providers as the population aged and more consumers sought out healthcare, Ken Krakaur, president of Third Core and vice president of Sentara Healthcare in Norfolk, Virg., said in an interview with Healthcare Executive Exchange.

After conducting extensive research into venue disruptions over the last several decades, the executive leadership concluded the virtual consult held solutions for this shortage and the funding challenges that would come with it.

“What we were trying to accomplish with MDLIVE was to increase the access to our patients to get our costs down, because virtual consults cost less than a physical consult,” Krakaur said. “We wanted to increase the clinicians’ productivity, and we needed to really increase our digital footprint. We needed to move away from bricks and mortar to clicks and mortar, the idea being that there’s way too much investment in buildings, which just raises the costs and requires you to be into an economic model with physician practices that is not sustainable. We also thought we could generate some new revenue for our medical group.”

MDLIVE was an ideal partner for Sentara, he added, because the company’s energetic, progressive vision meshed well with the system’s approach to customer service and the patient experience.

With approximately 700 providers in Sentara’s physician group, Krakaur could easily see virtual consults being conducted across the entire state of Virginia, especially when a new physician didn’t have a full panel yet. The team also considered the modern penchant to seek an app for every aspect of life.

“Connecting with the physician through that type of a product and that type of a tool we thought would be a real crowd-pleaser,” Krakaur said.

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As physicians looking for jobs, what are your thoughts on Sentara’s use of telehealth to fill its physician shortage? Is this a better alternative than expanding the responsibilities of advanced practitioners? As a new physician, how would you react if a system told you your initial consults would be virtual as you waited to develop a full panel?

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