Why the Experts are Saying Telemedicine’s Time has Come

You could “visit” your doctor with your smartphone in 2015.
You could “visit” your doctor with your smartphone in 2015.

Telemedicine appears to be a major emerging trend in 2015.

Not only is the technology necessary for providing medical care at a distance more readily available to large numbers of people, a number of other factors are coming together that point to telemedicine as a logical solution to many healthcare delivery problems. Consumers are taking more control of their healthcare choices, and those who have accessed telemedicine services are generally very positive about the technology.

Add in increased demand for healthcare services due to the Affordable Care Act going into effect and increasing demands on healthcare providers’ time, and it only makes sense that people make more use of available technology for delivery of healthcare. Here are some of the reasons experts are saying the time has come for telemedicine.

Because Telemedicine Benefits Young and Old

While most people assume a natural affinity for technology among younger people, telemedicine may in fact have the most impact on older people, according to Dr. Steve Ommen, Associate Dean at the Center for Connected Care at the Mayo Clinic. He tells Forbes, “The fastest-growing demographic for social media is the 60+ group. They are not technology-averse and they have the greatest mobility challenge in terms of getting to a doctor. A telemedicine solution may be exactly what they need.”

Young families may be more eager to adopt teleconference type interactions with doctors for routine illnesses like children’s earaches or pinkeye, but older individuals with chronic health conditions are perfect candidates for applications like remote monitoring via telemedicine. Medicare, a relatively slow adopter of telemedicine, has reported very positive results with remote patient monitoring, both in terms of patient satisfaction and in terms of reducing hospital readmissions, which can be quite costly.

Because It Makes Better Use of Doctors’ Increasingly Squeezed Time

More Americans have health insurance, and doctors’ patient loads have increased. At the same time, regulations under which doctors and other healthcare providers operate are constantly in flux, and the result is that their schedules are increasingly squeezed. Under traditional medical care delivery, doctors and their staffs spend a lot of time with patients who don’t necessarily need to be in the office. Otherwise-healthy flu patients, for example, when treated via telemedicine, can keep from exposing other patients in waiting rooms by being treated through telemedicine, and this method of delivery saves time for the doctor and his or her office staff as well. The result is convenience for those who don’t need to be treated in person and improved access for those who do.

Because It Can Improve Continuity of Care

When electronic health records are incorporated into telemedicine delivery, easier, more efficient continuity of care is possible. When hospitals use telemedicine to maintain patient engagement with their primary care providers and integrate this information with their medical records, care continuity is maintained, cutting down on administrative work and allowing doctors to do what they were trained to do: practice medicine. Large healthcare providers like Carolinas HealthCare are exploring “virtual consultations” that treat current patients who are located in North Carolina via secure video interaction while allowing the providers interacting with patients to see the patient’s record and notes. Visits are provided on a flat-fee basis, offering convenience, simplicity, and most importantly good outcomes with care continuity.

Because Doctors Are Increasingly Being Paid for Outcomes

Outcome-based medicine shifts provider reimbursement from the fee-for-service system that’s been in place for decades to payment that is tied to the ability of the medical team to achieve positive outcomes for patients. Most doctors in the US see the benefits of outcome-based medicine in reducing wasteful spending, and insurers like United Health are already offering provider bonuses based on outcomes. Outcome-based medicine gives doctors incentives to provide care in the most efficient manner, and telemedicine allows this in a large number of cases, primarily in treatment of everyday health complaints like respiratory infections, rashes, and other common ailments. Medicare and Medicaid are also starting to embrace telemedicine as part of their outcome-based initiatives.

Physician reimbursement is increasingly being tied to patient outcomes.
Physician reimbursement is increasingly being tied to patient outcomes.

Because Licensing Issues Are Finally Being Addressed

One of the biggest barriers to widespread adoption of telemedicine is the issue of provision of healthcare across state borders. Physicians are licensed by states, which is not a problem when patients come to physician practices to be treated. But when a patient lives across a state line, he or she can’t take advantage of telemedicine unless the doctor is licensed in the state of the patient’s residence.

So far, 10 state medical boards have created “telemedicine licenses” to accommodate telemedicine, and some states have arrangements for practicing in contiguous states, but there is still much to be done. Twenty-four states are members of a Nurse License Compact that allows nurses to practice in other states, and the Veterans Administration requires eligible physicians to have one state license to practice in all VA facilities, so progress is being made.

Because It Simply Makes a Lot of Sense

The bottom line is, telemedicine simply makes sense. We have the technology, and consumers are generally very positive about telemedicine. Who wouldn’t rather have their child’s earache diagnosed and treated from the comfort of their home than drive to a doctor’s office and wait alongside other sick kids for a visit that could easily take two or three hours out of the day once travel time is considered?

Telemedicine reduces or eliminates many obstacles to high quality healthcare, and can greatly reduce waste of time and resources on the part of both patients and healthcare providers. Legislators are seeing the benefits to telemedicine expansion – one of very few issues that receives bipartisan support. All signs indicate that the time has come for widespread telemedicine adoption in the US.


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