A significant challenge facing practitioners in the U.S. is the ability to provide quality healthcare to the underserved and underprivileged. Telehealth enables healthcare systems to treat patients promptly, particularly those located in remote or rural. Telemedicine is a real-time interaction between patients, healthcare providers, and facilities to offer high-quality care through remote monitoring, online portals, and still imaging practices. Patients can send data to doctors and interact through secure, two-way communication portals, such as the use of video services. Telemedicine expands access to care, enabling patients and doctors to reduce medical expenses, improve outcomes, and manage chronic conditions.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Over 40 years ago, telehealth was demonstrated in hospitals by extending care to patients in remote areas. The concept spread rapidly and is now becoming integrated into home health agencies, the ongoing operations of hospitals, private physician offices, specialty departments, and workplaces. Physicians use telemedicine to assess and interact with patients without seeing them in the office physically, often resulting in earlier diagnosis and treatment as well as more affordable therapies and improved outcomes. In addition to improving health outcomes, other benefits of telehealth include:
- Generates revenue
- Reduces healthcare costs
- Decreases travel expenses
- Increases access to healthcare
- Moves toward value-based care
- Increases patient and physician interaction
Telemedicine positively impacts patients, their families, and the community. It has been growing rapidly because of these and many other benefits it provides to both consumers and providers.
Telemedicine Delivery Mechanisms
As medicine continues to evolve and change, technology presents some unique possibilities for physicians to remain on the forefront of practicing medicine. The current digital innovations for telehealth have significant effects on the quality of care, healthcare costs, and patient access. Patient consultations through the use of still imaging transmission, video conferencing, nursing call centers, e-health patient portals, continuing medical education, remote monitoring of vital signs, and consumer-focused wireless applications are all components of telemedicine. The primary delivery mechanisms for telehealth include:
- Point-to-point connections. Clinics and hospitals deliver services directly or outsource specialty care, including intensive care services, mental health, stroke assessment, and radiology, to independent medical service providers via high-speed, private networks.
- Networked programs. Telecommunication links connect tertiary care clinics and hospitals with outlying community health centers and clinics in rural or suburban areas by the Internet or dedicated high-speed lines.
- Web-based e-health patient service sites. These types of service sites provide consumer outreach services directly over the Internet.
- Monitoring centers. Standard landlines, wireless connections, and the Internet are used for communications between the patient and the center for services that provide care to patients in the home, such as fetal, pulmonary, or cardiac monitoring.
Telemedicine improves access to patients, and it allows healthcare facilities and physicians to extend their ability to provide medical services beyond their private offices. It has a unique potential to expand service to millions of people throughout the world in urban and rural areas.
Taking Advantage of Innovative Technology
Some opponents of telemedicine cite the lack of robust evidence for cost savings. It is not yet clear which areas of telemedicine access are the most efficient, so a risk of losing health care dollars on ineffective programs does exist. Another thought is that the legal and regulatory aspects of telehealth are in need of a well-developed infrastructure to keep up with the near-daily changes and significant variations in state-by-state medical boards.
While the perfect healthcare system is still evolving, at the American Academy of Private Physicians we believe is crucial to take advantage of the innovative technology that allows for remote access to healthcare facilities and physicians. Consumer demand alternatives, and while telemedicine may not work for everyone, it is a viable option for many individuals.