What a $1.2B fraud scheme means for telemedicine

Top executives from five telemedicine companies were charged for their alleged participation in a $1.2 billion healthcare fraud scheme. Their actions could amplify concerns regarding malpractice in telemedicine, according to a Business Insider report.

Federal prosecutors claim telemarketers would call Medicare beneficiaries to get them to accept free or low-cost durable medical equipment braces, regardless of medical necessity. The call centers would then transfer the patients to a telemedicine company for a consultation. That physician would allegedly prescribe the braces to the patients without in-person consolations.

The alleged defendants received kickbacks from the medical equipment companies.

This isn't the only story that is leaving some skeptical about the use of telemedicine.

A study in Pediatrics found patients were more likely to be prescribed antibiotics during telemedicine visits compared to in-person urgent care or primacy care appointments. Over half of the pediatric patients who were consulted by a telemedicine physician for acute respiratory infections were giving prescriptions. Comparatively, only 31 percent of patients who visited their physician in-person were given a prescription.

The report suggests insurers may roll back incentives in telemedicine. Currently, 70 percent of healthcare executives put telemedicine as a high priority, but if physicians are concerned over prescribing and wasteful medical spending, they may not be quick to transition to virtual care.

Consumers may also lose trust in telemedicine, according to Business Insider. Healthcare leaders are already seeing a dip in consumer trust. Between 2018 and 2019, consumers' willingness to share data with healthcare providers dropped 9 percent on average.

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