Telemedicine is becoming an option for an increasing number of American consumers.
Long relegated to telephone connections and healthcare provision in extremely rural areas, telemedicine is becoming more common in many settings, including in cities with highly respected medical centers. Today, more individuals have health insurance, and providing access to healthcare to an expanded patient base is an increasingly pressing issue. Telemedicine is filling this need and becoming an important building block of 21st century healthcare.
But telemedicine is far from “second best” healthcare. Studies have shown that telemedicine results in patient outcomes just as good as outcomes for in-person healthcare. Furthermore, it saves money, is less stressful for many patients, and saves time. Time savings with telemedicine result from several factors, and both providers and patients love avoiding long wait times and more efficient delivery of care. Here are some of the ways telemedicine saves time.
Parents of Young Children: Time Is a Precious Commodity
If you have young children, the stress of visiting the pediatrician is compounded by not knowing how long it will take. Will you need someone to pick up other children from school? Will the pharmacy be crowded too? How much time off work will you need? Dr. Kenneth McConnochie, director of Health-e-Access Telemedicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, understands how valuable time and money are to parents of young children. He tells the American Academy of Family Physicians that by increasing the availability of telemedicine services, the Center realized a 22% reduction in visits to the emergency room among children. And the fact that the average telemedicine visit costs $75, versus $750 for an ER visit is an added bonus.
McConnochie says that parents are enthusiastic about this option because it is so much more convenient than traditional office visits. Parents can take less time off work, save money, and not have to scramble to find care for other children, realizing the convenience from the first visit. And telemedicine is useful for a range of pediatric services. McConnochie says that an estimated 85% of primary care pediatric office visits could be handled with telemedicine.
Elimination of Travel Time
For people who live at a great distance from healthcare providers, a simple doctor’s visit can take all day. But telemedicine is helping these consumers access healthcare even if they’re hundreds of miles from the providers they need. Dr. David McSwain of the Medical University of South Carolina sees patients who are geographically removed, and he says the telemedicine-based visits are as thorough as in-person visits.
McSwain had telemedicine equipment installed in four rural hospitals in South Carolina, including:
- Laptops to transmit data such as x-rays, test results, and patient information
- Movable high-definition cameras that can be remotely controlled
- Handheld cameras for remote nurses or doctors to view inside patients’ ears and mouths
- Electronic stethoscopes that can transmit heart and lung sounds
He says he is able to discern a patient’s demeanor, color, and how they’re breathing, and can easily talk to other relevant individuals, like patients’ parents. Furthermore, he says, the image quality is in some cases better than what the unaided eye can see.
Reduced Wait for Specialist Care
For some rural patients, telemedicine provides the only way to access medical specialists. In rural states, specialty care can be scarce, and accessing care can be difficult even for patients with insurance. Another project in South Carolina connects pediatric specialists with patients at rural hospitals in the state. Mary Piepenbring, vice president of the Duke Endowment, which spent $525,000 on the project, says telemedicine is “an innovative way to address a shortage of subspecialty providers. This technology can effectively remove barriers for rural communities across the state and help high-risk patients receive the quality care they need.”
Reduced Hospital Transfers Save Time and Money
Hospital care in rural areas sometimes requires the services of medical specialists, and before telemedicine, this involved expensive and stressful hospital transfers for patients. But with telemedicine, rural hospitals can access specialists in cities, use remote imaging and other remote technologies to provide critical data to those specialists, and in many cases avoid the need to transfer a patient. The time spent transferring a patient is time that could be spent treating the patient, and such transfers are expensive as well.
Telemedicine has also reduced readmission rates among Medicare patients, reducing the financial burden of the cost of these readmissions on Medicare. Not only do providers and insurers save money when readmissions decrease, patients save considerable time and stress as well.
Critical Time Savings in Emergencies
Primitive telemedicine techniques have long been used by major medical centers in rural states like Montana due to the geographically scattered population. In fact, Montana Medicaid started using telemedicine in 1994 to save the state on costs of patient travel. Just a few years later, several telemedicine networks joined together to create the Montana Telehealth Alliance to allow patients at any hospital or clinic within the network to be connected with any other physician in any state telemedicine network. What this means is that in emergency situations where specialists are needed, patients are more likely to be treated where they are first taken rather than facing the time and expense of being transferred elsewhere. This also reduces travel time of family members, and avoids making a stressful situation even more so.
Telemedicine is rapidly gaining appreciation because it helps save both time and money – commodities that are always a concern of both healthcare providers and patients. Time savings with telemedicine could prompt people who formerly couldn’t be bothered to seek medical attention to reach out, and it is a great aid to a time-crunched population. As telemedicine expands, people can expect greater convenience when seeking healthcare services and a less stressful experience.
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