How Telemedicine Can Connect Underserved Patients to Providers

At first glance, telemedicine sounds like an uninviting name for a healthcare telethon.

However, tech-savvy healthcare providers know telemedicine utilizes telecommunications technology like voice conferencing and streaming media to provide remote and long-distance patient care, medical education and health administration.

Telemedicine is a helpful tool to connect urban providers with rural patients, particularly those who lack reliable transportation, due to its cost-saving attributes and ability to provide efficient care.

Cost Benefits

Telemedicine delivers preventive care that could potentially save healthcare billions by preventing hospitalizations.

The costs incurred by healthcare providers investing in telemedical equipment and employing additional staff members are a fraction of costs associated with emergency room admissions, intensive care facility visits, home nursing and extended hospitalizations.

St. John’s Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis received half a million dollars in federal grants that will enable the chain to install monitoring devices at home. They’ve targeted patients in the surrounding rural Missouri and Arkansas areas, collecting blood sugar, breathing levels, body weight and physical activity.

Readings are sent to a doctor’s office daily, where doctors can decide to check up on a patient if they spot irregular readings. This allows for less invasive treatment while encouraging the patient to engage directly with his or her personal care provider.

Efficient Care

Telemedicine is a highly patient-centered way of bringing health care to rural dwellers. The technology caters to low-wage workers that can’t always afford to leave their homes, as well as freelancers and contract workers.

Web meetings and other online streaming video tools can provide patient care wherever there is an Internet connection. WebEx, GotoMeeting and Skype are all viable solutions, resulting in a low monthly cost for physicians and next-to-nothing for the patient.

Monitoring devices like the type mentioned above are more efficient for older and technologically averse patients. This allows for data to be sent back to monitoring centers almost instantly from a variety of geographical areas.

Mobile imaging and lab specimen collections improve diagnostics. There are lab specimen “kiosks” and mobile imaging centers in rural communities that send data electronically to urban areas where results are analyzed.

It seems mental and behavioral health services are not often thought of as areas that can be helped by technological advances in health care. Naturally, this is an unwarranted misconception.

Mental and behavioral health patients in rural communities can be diagnosed with proper telemedical access. And in the mental health field, a definite diagnosis is sometimes a hot commodity, particularly in remote locations.

Extending patient-centered care isn’t totally possible without community-building tools. Patient-to-patient video sessions via communities such as can connect geographically disparate communities and allow people to help each other without increasing healthcare costs.

There is a disproportionate amount of doctors in urban areas versus rural areas. Telemedicine can connect underprivileged patients with top-notch physicians, providing higher quality care and improving patient health.

It’s no wonder this healthcare technology trend, given its relatively low cost of equipment and labor, is being adopted by healthcare centers across the country.

Are you interested in implementing telemedical initiatives at your practice?

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