Evaluating Medicare’s 15-minute Doctor’s Visits: Time for a Change?

In 1992, Medicare made the decision that a typical doctor’s visit length should be 15-minutes. In an attempt to reduce the variability in physician fees, Medicare adopted the “relative value unit” (RVU) formula as a way to calculate these fees and promote consistency.

The formula concluded that a typical primary care office visit should equal about 1.3 RVUs, or approximately 15 minutes. From there, Medicare set its reimbursement rules to the same time limit and private insurance companies soon followed. Because of this, 15-minute doctors’ visits became the norm, a practice that will likely remain unchanged in the near future.

This week, an excellent article in Forbes argued that it’s now time to remove the 25 year restriction on in-person appointments, citing that these time limits are negatively affecting patient-physician relationships and impacting care quality.

Specifically, the author explains that thanks to the adoption of EHRs and time spent on documenting treatments,15-minute appointments are resulting in modern doctors spending almost the same amount of time talking to or examining their patients (52.9%) as they are doing paperwork (37.0%). Further, these short visits don’t allow doctors to thoroughly converse or listen to their patients, while also taking the time to examine them.

According to experts, these short appointments not only affect patients, but also physician satisfaction. Studies suggest that back-to-back appointments can result in physician burnout, while also causing doctors to overlook medical problems and errors that can lead to complications and higher costs.

One way to address these too-short 15-minute appointments and physician issues is through telehealth and specifically, Medicare’s Chronic Care Management Program.

Typically, a patient may see a doctor once a year, but if they are suffering from multiple chronic conditions, they understand the need to speak with their doctor on a regular basis to ensure that they are following the right treatment paths. Rushed appointments can result in less communication between patient and doctors and ultimately less preventative care, which can result in more disease developments and higher healthcare costs.

Solutions like Wellbox allow patients to remain in contact with their doctors and other healthcare professionals with a monthly 20-minute call, encouraging enhanced communication without having to rely on unnecessary or otherwise rushed visits. Because these telehealth programs input real-time medical information directly in the EHRs, doctors are able to stay updated on their patients’ health and make care corrections if necessary.

As the author of the Forbes piece argues, it may be time for Medicare to reevaluate the length of a typical doctor’s visit and the reimbursements that go along with them. But in the meantime, telehealth and CCM are two pathways ensuring that both patients and physicians have the time and resources to address any pertinent health issues and changes to care plans.

About the Author

Patrick Stevenson is the Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Wellbox, the all-inclusive solution for tracking and billing for Chronic Care Management and Annual Wellness Visits, as well as offering in-demand Telemedicine and Remote Patient Monitoring services.

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