Some experts view telemedicine as a key to improved patient engagement and empowerment
It may be surprising to many that modern telemedicine has been traced back to 1905 when Dutch physician, Willem Einthoven, performed long distance transfers of electrocardiograms. (History of Telemedicine, Bashshur and Shannon). It didn’t really take off until the 1950s.
More than a century later the field has been transformed by innovative technologies, portals, instant data communications and Internet connectivity. The need to provide quality healthcare to a broader range of the population, especially in rural areas or at facilities that don’t have local access to highly specialized providers such as neurologists, psychiatrists and mental health professionals, cardiologists or radiologists has also led to the shift.
According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), in 2015, more than 15 million Americans were the beneficiaries of one form or another of remote medical care. That number is expected to increase by 30 percent in 2016. The driving forces behind telemedicine are to increase access to quality healthcare, make it more available where local care isn’t available and, invariably, to reduce the cost of care delivery.
What is telemedicine and how is this powerful healthcare tool being used?
As defined by the 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, smartphones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology.
Today, telemedicine represents an increasingly relevant and important aspect of healthcare as various enabling technologies evolve rapidly and the cost of providing quality care escalates.
The benefits of telemedicine include:
- Improved access to patients and allows physicians and healthcare facilities to expand their reach beyond their own offices,
- Cost efficiencies that reduce or contain the cost of healthcare and improve efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health staffing, reduced travel times and fewer or shorter hospital stays,
- Improved quality since studies have shown services delivered by telemedicine are as good as those given in in-person consultations for many scenarios,
- Patient demand is driving adoption because the greatest impact is on the patient, their family and the community, often providing access to providers that might not otherwise be available. (ATA)
The Wall Street Journal reports that the fastest-growing segments of telemedicine involve connecting consumers directly to clinicians through various technologies. For the most part, it’s being used for lower-level complaints such as flu, colds, skin rashes and ear aches. An ATA study found that large employers are quickly warming up to virtual doctor visits with nearly three-quarters offering the benefit in 2016, versus 48 percent in 2015.
Telemedicine also employs wearable and other sensors, as well as in-home health status and vital sign monitoring devices to collect real time remote data from patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart conditions. This helps reduce costs.
In addition, a growing number of hospitals and medical practices are using telemedicine networks to gain access to a wide variety of medical specialists and experts located across the nation and the world.
Some industry providers believe that telemedicine helps empower patients to become more engaged in and take more responsibility for their own health needs. The ultimate goal is to use remote care access systems to engage patients earlier in the healthcare process for better outcomes and improved return on investment throughout the physician, medical center and insurer provider ecosystem.
Now, some innovative telemedicine services are providing customizable cloud-based solutions for medical centers, ACOs, multispecialty clinics and health plans that include websites, online resources, patient record portability via mobile applications, and even ecommerce capabilities.