With a history dating back to the primitive sharing of medical information in the 1950s, telemedicine has become a major component in modern medicine, aiding medical staff in the effective diagnosis and treatment of patients using advanced telecommunications technology. Gone are the days when the only option for medical care outside of normal business hours was the emergency room. With the advancement of communications technology, remote health care has become readily available and is now a common part of many health care programs, making medical care more easily accessible and convenient for many Americans. Additionally, this service can help to lower health care costs as most providers charge a flat monthly fee and little to no co-pay.
An innovative approach to patient care, telemedicine allows patients to take advantage of US Board certified physicians around the clock, helping to prevent unnecessary crowding in emergency rooms and providing immediate care for non-emergency illnesses. Imagine that you are at work on a Friday afternoon and are experiencing sinus and allergy symptoms. With a telemedicine program, you might call or video chat with a physician who would then provide a diagnosis for your non-emergency issue and prescribe medication or treatment, immediately calling it in to your local pharmacy. In essence, you can receive the same results as visiting a doctor’s office within only a few hours without ever having to leave home or work. Another way the service is used is to create an ease of information sharing between primary and specialized health care providers.
“Telemedicine incorporates the use of telecommunication and video consults to eliminate distance barriers and provide a wider population with modernized medical services,” said Southern OB/GYN, a primary care provider for women in Valdosta. “Video communication along with a secured electronic portal transmits health information between health care providers. This allows for different areas of specialty, as well as primary care, to communicate and coordinate the care of patients through one location or medical office.”
The practice has used telemedicine technologies for more than five years and has seen measurable success in bridging the gap between primary and specialized care in addition to increasing the range of care available to patients.
Southern OB/GYN partnered with Maternal Fetal Specialists in Atlanta to use telemedicine to provide obstetrical patients with high risk pregnancies access to perinatology services. Through this service, patients have been shown to benefit greatly from receiving frequent, specialized care. Patients in Valdosta and its surrounding areas are guided by the expertise of not only their primary care physicians, but also specialists in the Atlanta area without the hassle of scheduling and traveling to multiple office visits. Furthermore, if a specialist is not easily accessible within a geographic region, telemedicine helps to bridge the gap, a benefit that currently ensures rural areas have the same access to specialized medicine as larger cities.
By using telemedicine programs, patients assist in their own wellness management. For example, the development of new smart phone applications provides users with ways to measure, track, and share medical information like vitals, physical activity, diet, menstruation, and more. These apps make the management of chronic illnesses easier for patients and physicians alike.
The varying advantages to telemedicine are apparent, making the service a hot commodity for health care consumers. The American Telemedicine Association reported that more than 15 million Americans received at least one type of telemedicine last year, and they expect that number to increase by 30 percent this year. Additionally, more than half of America’s hospitals are currently using telemedicine to treat patients. According to The Wall Street Journal, nearly 75 percent of large employers will offer telemedicine benefits to employees this year, an increase from 48 percent last year.
With the rapid expansion in the telemedical industry, some lag in uniformity is to be expected. Rules defining and regulating telemedicine vary from state to state, and insurance coverage of telemedical services varies from plan to plan. More than 200 new bills focused on telemedicine definition and administration have been proposed this year across 42 states. These bills include a wide variety of topics, such as establishing the protocol for reimbursement on remote patient monitoring and which services should be covered by federal programs like Medicaid.
“A lot of states are still trying to define telemedicine,” said Lisa Robinson, chief advocacy officer for the Federation of State Medical Boards.
The development of governance over the industry has a long way to go. This new frontier can expect many changes in the coming years as lawmakers aim to streamline its availability and determine insurance related guidelines. These changes will likely help reshape and solidify the industry as we know it and advance the ability of telemedicine to more efficiently answer the needs of American health care consumers.
Telemedicine: Medicine Gone Modern
By: Miranda Moore