What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine refers to the practice of caring for patients remotely when the provider and patient are not physically present with each other. Healthcare services are remotely delivered. Modern technology has enabled doctors to consult patients, evaluate, diagnose and treat patients without the need for an in-person visit.
There are 3 common types of telemedicine, which include but not limited to-
- Interactive Medicine – which allows patients and physicians to communicate in real-time while maintaining HIPAA compliance. Such sessions can be conducted in the patient's home or at a designated medical kiosk. Interactions include telephone conversations or the use of video conferencing software.
- Store and Forward – which permits providers to share patient information with a practitioner in another location.
- Remote Patient Monitoring – which allows remote caregivers to monitor patients that reside at home by using mobile medical devices to collect data (e.g. blood sugar, temperature, blood pressure)
Some of the benefits of telemedicine for patients include:
- Convenience: Patients do not have to take time away from work for an appointment. There is also no travel time or associated expenses.
- Increased access: Patients who previously had limited access to health care services can now see a physician without leaving their home, without traveling a large distance for an in-person visit. Similarly, patients who live in federally designated, underserved areas have increased access to primary, dental and mental healthcare.
The advantages of telemedicine for providers include:
- Reduced cancellations or no-shows: Because of its convenience for patients, telemedicine can reduce the number of cancellations or no-shows. Providers can reach out prior to or at the appointment time if the patient forgot about the appointment.
- Encourage healthy lifestyle choices: Telemedicine allows providers to encourage their patients' healthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking cessation.
- Providers can also benefit from increased revenue. By utilizing telemedicine, physicians can see more patients without the need to hire more staff or increase office space.
Some of the challenges of telemedicine include:
- Cybersecurity: As with any technology that involves electronically transmitting patient data, telemedicine systems are susceptible to hackers and breaches. Healthcare organizations remain one of the biggest targets for online criminals and terrorists.
- Inability to prescribe medications: Many states generally do not allow online prescribing (not to be confused with e-prescribing) without an established relationship between the physician and patient. A physical examination or evaluation may be required before a physician can write a prescription for a patient, but there are inconsistencies in state laws as to what constitutes a physical examination. Physicians are very concerned about patient mismanagement. While advances in medicine have made it more efficient to use technology, there are times when system outages occur.
- Technical training and equipment: Providers need to be trained on how to use telemedicine equipment. There are also the associated costs of the equipment, such as integrated telemedicine carts and encounter management software, to consider. The startup cost of implementing telemedicine may be especially prohibitive to rural facilities. Implementing a new system requires training and sometimes staff members find it difficult to welcome this change.
- Licensing issues: Certain states may require providers who practice telemedicine across state lines have a valid license in the state where the patient is located. Because technology is growing at such a fast pace, it’s been difficult for policymakers to keep up with the industry. There is great uncertainty regarding matters like reimbursement policies, privacy protection, and healthcare laws. In addition, telemedicine laws are different in every state.