What Is Telemedicine?
New healthcare options called telemedicine and telehealth are rapidly becoming available for patients in the U.S.
What is telemedicine? It’s a remote live and interactive communication, usually a type of online video chat, with a healthcare provider. For certain types of illnesses patients can be seen remotely using modern technology. Healthcare providers can often complete an exam, make a diagnosis, and even write a prescription for you, all from the comfort of your home.
Today, telemedicine is often used to treat patients with chronic diseases like high blood pressure, urgent care visits for coughs and colds, and to connect primary care physicians with medical specialists.
According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA):
“Telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine includes a growing variety of applications and services using two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.”
Telemedicine had its first start over 40 years ago by hospitals to service rural and remote areas with limited healthcare access. Even astronauts routinely have their health monitored remotely. It’s not a separate medical specialty, but a way of delivering healthcare across the spectrum of medical services. However, not every office visit is amenable to telehealth. But for minor ailments or routine follow-ups, telemedicine is a reasonable, affordable, and often preferable option.
Today, as telemedicine is evolving, many private insurers are adopting rules to provide guidelines around how services are distributed and paid for. Many insurance companies, including will now pay for a remote telemedicine healthcare visit. Providers regularly use telehealth to visit with patients, often via call centers specifically for that purpose.
During a telemedicine consult, a healthcare provider such as a doctor, physician's assistant, nurse, or pharmacist meets with the patient via video conferencing to provide healthcare services. This may include the transmission of still images, use of electronic medical records, and patient portals, vital sign monitoring, health education, remote device monitoring, call center consults, and medication therapy management (MTM). The consult might take place on a computer, laptop, or even a wireless tablet or any mobile device.
Common ailments you have that could easily be treated via telemedicine include:
Back pain or problems, Colds/sinus, congestion,Cough,Eye problems,Ear infections,Allergies,Rash or other skin condition,Some mental health counseling,Sprains & Nausea
Examples of Telemedicine
Patient-direct health education such as proper use of an asthma inhaler device, groups sessions aimed at smoking cessation, or a follow-up visit with a new diabetes patient.Data, such as vital signs or still images, may be collected and forwarded for later review. Vital signs include blood glucose levels, blood pressure, heart ECG, or other lab work. Still images might include an unusual mole, a picture of the inner ear, or a sore throat.Primary care doctors, such as pediatricians or family medicine doctors, can use telemedicine to provide a consult with a patient or another specialist doctor, like a board certified dermatologist, to help render a diagnosis. This may involve live, interactive video conferencing, still screen shots, or can be used in conjunction with a nurse-assisted visit. If needed, a patient may be immediately directed to schedule in-office care.Studies have evaluated the use of telemedicine in the emergency room setting to help patients with non-severe issues (common respiratory infections, cough, colds) be seen and discharged more quickly.
Telemedicine jobs are expected to increase as healthcare providers such as pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants continue to expand in providing healthcare services and can serve as telemedicine providers.
The Status of Telemedicine Services
Health Affairs reports that telemedicine is set to grow at an annual rate of 50%, reaching $1.9 billion by 2018. There are over 200 telemedicine networks and 3,500 service sites in the U.S. In fact, over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine. The Veterans Health Administration (VA) has delivered over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine. Technology and telemedicine companies now offer packages of cloud-based telehealth solutions for the healthcare industry.