What is telemedicine, and how can it change patient care for the better?

By Becky Lawlor

| Healthcare

Telemedicine has been touted as a way to improve access to healthcare and reduce costs. But what is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is the use of remote collaboration technology to provide patient care. Think of it as patients Skyping their doctor instead of Skyping their family or friends. Doctors don’t see patients at their physical offices, but they can still talk to and see their patients virtually to deliver care recommendations and prescribe medications.

Though the technology for telemedicine has been present for some time, it was originally viewed as a tool to reach remote patients living in rural areas. In fact, one of the most famous investments in telemedicine was the government’s Space Technology Applied to Rural Papago Advanced Health Care (STARPAHC) project, which provided remote medical services to Native Americans on the Papago Reservation in Arizona and to astronauts in space.

Now, the uses for telemedicine are even more far-reaching. Telemedicine can be used for rural patients with little to no access to healthcare, but it can also be used to provide care in urban areas where there is a shortage of healthcare specialists. Healthcare providers are even using telemedicine as a way to compete in the healthcare field by offering more convenient services to busy patients with common medical care requests, such as ear infections or rashes. Healthcare providers are working to raise awareness and draw customers into this new business model for patient care.

The value of telemedicine

Healthcare costs continue to rise. Meanwhile, patient access to care continues to drop, especially in rural parts of the US. According to a report by the American Hospital Association, approximately 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas and lack easy access to primary care or specialist services. At the same time, a 2016 survey by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation found that annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $18,142 this year, up 3 percent from last year.

Though these are complex issues and there is no single solution, telemedicine is one technology that holds a lot of promise to help lower costs and provide better access to care.

Mobile apps for telemedicine

Mobile apps are helping to facilitate the delivery of telemedicine. Through mobile health apps and other mobile devices, doctors can monitor vitals and measure other important body functions, such as glucose levels or blood pressure. This virtual monitoring allows doctors to provide more accurate diagnoses remotely and monitor patients with chronic care issues such as diabetes or heart disease without having to see them in their offices.

Cost efficiencies

An added benefit of telemedicine is that it can help reduce costs and simplify payment for both patients and physicians. For instance, instead of sending a home health nurse to a patient’s home several times a week, the patient can check in with a nurse over a video connection and send medical information through a mobile app. This streamlines the entire care process for both the patient and provider.

For patients, the benefit of telemedicine is less time spent traveling, which may let them avoid taking time off work or traveling long distances. Additionally, telemedicine visits take less time and are more efficient for providers, making them typically more affordable than in-office visits.

For providers, telemedicine improves efficiency by allowing a provider to see more patients in less time. This may be due to reduced travel times, in the case of a home health nurse, or because it streamlines overhead costs and processes such as the use of front desk staff and nurses who are part of a normal doctor’s office visit. Additionally, telemedicine calls can increase revenue by allowing providers to replace unbilled patient phone calls with billable video consults. Plus, through the use of mobile apps, payments can be processed immediately and directly, simplifying the hassles of paperwork and collecting payments for providers.

Telemedicine is only now taking off in healthcare, but “What is telemedicine?” won’t be a question in a few more years as both patients and providers get more comfortable with the delivery of remote care and the benefits it offers.

Written By

Becky Lawlor

Technology Writer

Becky Lawlor is a freelance technology writer specializing in mobility, cloud computing, unified communications and collaboration solutions. She develops and writes content that helps technology buyers understand and evaluate technology solutions, modernize their IT infrastructure…

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