Health IT headlines tend to focus on the adoption of EHR systems, but telemedicine — the delivery of remote clinical services using technology — is also making significant advancements that can benefit physician practices.
Health IT headlines tend to focus on the adoption of EHR systems, but telemedicine — the delivery of remote clinical services using technology — is also making significant advances that can benefit physician practices.
Telemedicine has moved far beyond the teleradiology systems that have been in use for the past decade. Today, telemedicine includes a variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smartphones, wireless tools, and other forms of telecommunications technology that help physicians serve remote patients.
Here are 10 ways telemedicine is changing the healthcare delivery model:
1. It breaks geographical boundaries. Over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. This increases communication with suburban and rural clinics, granting health access to a wider variety of people. It also provides an opportunity for expansion of physician practices. In fact, the American Telemedicine Association estimates the number of existing telemedicine networks in the United States at roughly 200, providing connectivity to over 3,000 sites.
2. It enables virtual patient monitoring. Cardiac, pulmonary or fetal, and vital sign monitoring all become accessible from a distance. The ATA states that nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors. Home care, particularly for the elderly, also benefits via the home telehealth system.
3. It expands outreach. Telemedicine can revolutionize nursing homes, schools, prisons, rural health facilities, and several other institutions that could benefit from remote healthcare.
4. It facilitates collaboration. Easy access means collaborative consultations or diagnoses for patients. Online discussion groups bridge the gap between peers. Professionals can easily seek secondary opinions, and clinics can exchange patient data.
5. It outsources specialty services to independent providers. Services such as radiology, stroke assessment, mental health assessment, and intensive care can be outsourced via telemedicine.
6. It reduces costs. Not only will telemedicine significantly cut physicians' travel costs and time to reach patients, but it will also lower overall medical/pharmacy costs by reducing hospital admissions and readmissions, while lessening usage of emergency services and lab/diagnostic tests.
7. It boosts efficiency. Telemedicine gives physicians and patients increased mobility, which means saving both time and money. Health professionals also benefit through greater outreach.
8. It leverages health and wellness apps on mobile devices. While enabling healthcare to become more mainstream, mHealth “delivers clinical care through consumer-grade hardware and allows for greater patient and provider mobility,” according to ATA.
9. It gives young doctors a new revenue model to expand their practices. By staying in sync with emerging telemedicine technology, physicians can keep pace with new revenue-generating opportunities such as remote visits and consultations.
10. It has government support. The ATA reports that so far this year, 16 states have introduced telemedicine parity legislation, including bills permitting coverage for private insurance, Medicaid, and state employee health plans. "This latest policy move shows a regional trend by state lawmakers in the northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island) to innovate healthcare delivery and reduce health-related costs via telemedicine".