Health care as we know it is changing and due to the political nature of the subject matter, no one can really predict where we will be over the next couple of years. What we DO know is that technology is becoming increasingly an option to serve the public and save dollars for both the patient and the industry as a whole. Telemedicine is one such technology that was once an option only for the minority– private physicians on call for the wealthy or delivering medical access to people living in remote areas – but has now become very widespread to just about any demographic.
Bringing back the convenience of health care.
For those who are baby boomers and older, house calls by a local doctor were the norm. it was convenient…and brought a personal touch to the doctor/patient relationship. Today’s telemedicine mimics those house calls of the past using technology.
Telemedicine connects clinicians and patients via smartphones, tablets, and computers. If you have a Wi-Fi connection, you can get access to telemedicine. It’s an innovative approach to patient care, and it’s changing the way health care is delivered for millions of Americans. The American Telemedicine Association found that over 15 million Americans received remote health care in 2015. Telemedicine actually dates back 40 years where it began as a way to serve patients who lived in remote areas via telephone. However, today’s telemedicine offers a number of services which are widely used to extend the reach of modern health care. These include:
- Primary care and specialist referral services
- Remote patient monitoring for homebound patients as a way to supplement visiting nurse care
- Consumer medical and health information access comprising everything from online discussion groups to specialized health information
- Continuing medical education opportunities for health care professionals
What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine?
The full potential and benefits are still emerging; however, the following benefits have already had a huge impact.
Increased Convenience and Efficiency
No more taking time off work for minor issues that may require only speaking to a doctor vs. care. With telemedicine you can use a phone, computer, or tablet for minor injuries like cuts, scrapes, and burns, medical attention is just a tap away. Telemedicine is linked with increased efficiency and lowered costs due to everything from decreases in traveling time and shorter hospital stays to shared professional staffing and improved chronic disease management.
Decreased ER Visits/Lower Wait Times
With minor injuries now being handled via telemedicine, wait times in emergency rooms for patients with more serious issues have decreased. In fact, the use of telemedicine visits is expected to reduce emergency room visits by 15% or more.
Improved Health Care Access for Rural Communities and Patients with Special Needs
Telemedicine is helping the 20% of Americans living in rural communities receive the quality care they need without having to drive to the next town for treatment. And for those who are stuck at home due to physical or psychological ailments, video conferencing enables a stress-free environment for health care.
The convenience of telemedicine makes patients more inclined to get regular check-ups or visit a doctor for smaller health concerns. This two-way technology also helps physicians monitor patient progress and vitals over time. Using remote monitoring technology, a physician can keep tabs on a patient’s blood sugar and cardiopulmonary disease – reducing the risk of mortality by up to 45%.
Simplified Workplace Injury Care
Telemedicine is also changing medical care in the workplace. Depending on the severity of the injury, workers can receive medical attention immediately, without having to leave work. This means less downtime, higher productivity, greater employee satisfaction, and faster claim closures.
Telemedicine’s aim is to improve population health, enhance the patient experience, reduce costs, and increase provider satisfaction. Will more private companies offering telemedicine arise – competing with insurance carriers? Perhaps – only time will tell. What is a given is the industry is changing and there is pressure on insurance carriers to reduce costs and improve the customer experience – telemedicine will be part of that solution.
Senior Vice President, Commercial Team Leader