What is telemedicine/telehealth?
Telemedicine connects doctors and health care providers to patients using remote-based technologies such as videoconferencing, phone, smartphone apps, wearable devices, kiosks, online chat and other means of digital and/or virtual communication. Considered long-distance health care, patients can receive consultations, health monitoring, health education, coaching, and a number of additional services without the traditional in-person doctor visit making it a more convenient and cost effective method for a growing number of patients. Telemedicine normally refers to clinical, one-on-one visits or communications between doctors and patients to replace in-person visits. While telehealth refers to a broader scope of healthcare services that provide health-based education, appointment scheduling, notifications, and other non-clinical services.
The telemedicine boom began in the 1990s as technology-access increased around the world. Medical professionals saw technology as a way to reach patients in rural areas, bedridden patients, and those with general mobility or transportation issues. Doctors also routinely use these processes to connect with specialists who help them evaluate and treat their patients. Throughout the past two decades, telemedicine has become a fast-growing aspect of the healthcare services industry. Several medical processes are now converting to digital formats to better track and monitor each patient. With the advent of smartphones, apps, video calls, and texting, telemedicine continues to expand into all means of digital communication.
How does telemedicine work?
Health professionals who utilize telemedicine (or telehealth) can remotely diagnose, provide health assessments, and treat patients through telecommunications tools. Quite often, patients will be provided with medical devices, prescribed medications, and other tools to administer treatment or monitor conditions based on digital doctor-to-patient consultations. Telemedicine is a highly convenient, accessible, and affordable means of providing basic health services, and is becoming a useful option for patients and medical professionals alike.
What are the benefits of telemedicine?
There are several beneficial aspects of using medical technology in place of in-person visits:
- Patients do not have to travel to a physical location for certain types of care, such as prescription refills, and medical advice (as long as physical contact is not necessary).
- Doctor’s appointments can be handled conveniently from one’s home or office.
- Patients can avoid sitting in germ-filled waiting rooms (this is especially great for patients with sensitive immune systems).
- Even with scheduled appointments, patients must often wait for nurse and doctor availability. Using telemedicine can save lots of time for doctors and patients.
- Remote appointments can mean less time taken off work, and other commitments.
- Follow-up appointments can be handled via digital communication.
- Preventative care such as weight loss, nutrition and more can be addressed easily.
- Doctors can be available for appointments outside of normal office hours if problems arise.
- Medical professionals can digitally assist under urgent circumstances.
- Medical facilities can save on resources, staffing requirements, and time.
Common Medical Conditions Applicable for Telemedicine Care (add)
- Diabetes – Telemedicine glucose monitoring apps and wireless devices are becoming more and more common as a way to track blood glucose and send alerts to patients and doctors when levels move outside of a normal range.
- Blood Pressure – Several devices and apps are available to monitor blood pressure and heart rate on a continual basis. Patients at risk for cardiovascular issues may wear wireless sensors that can alert patients of too high or too low blood pressure levels. Some devices are already geared toward the fitness market for basic monitoring, while others are able to monitor for more critical situations, reporting to a doctor for necessary intervention.
- Sleep Apnea – Telemedicine devices for sleep apnea can issue direct reports on sleep patterns, body positioning and breathing abnormalities to assist with the course of treatment for patients.
Regulatory Outlook on Telemedicine/Telehealth
Along with the growing telemedicine industry comes a variety of obstacles for this approach to medical care. The most common being:
- Patient info security and protection – In 2014, several government agencies including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) collaborated to focus on the security of health monitoring devices and apps when it comes to collecting patient information.
- Interstate regulations and licensing – Telemedicine-based health care providers have run into several challenges to obey state regulations and obtain licensing while treating patients out of state. Several bills have been submitted for congressional approval, including the bipartisan Telehealth Innovation and Improvement Act in 2015 to expand telemedicine treatment within the Medicare program, which will enable doctors to provide quality care under federal protections.
- Costs, insurance, and reimbursements – Licensing is required in the state in which a doctor practices telemedicine, and where the patient lives. this field of practice poses a number of logistical challenges. As telemedicine grows, several states have attempted to streamline reimbursement costs for telehealth, but policies that regulate insurance claims, practice standards, and licensing has potentially slowed down the accessibility of telemedicine. In February 2016, the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act was proposed in the Senate and the House to “promote Medicare coverage and introduce incentive-based payment models and waiver programs.
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