What is Telemedicine?

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine started in the 1950s when a few hospital systems and university medical centers were looking for ways to share images and information over the telephone. One of the first successes was when two health centers in Pennsylvania transmitted radiologic images via phone.

As with any technological breakthrough, telemedicine has gone through several changes over the years. In the beginning, telemedicine was used mostly to connect physicians seeing one patient to specialists located elsewhere.

One major issue telemedicine faced was equipment expense. While the idea of telemedicine was liked by many, the growth was limited. The internet age has increased the practice of telemedicine. As many people now carry smartphones that are capable of producing high-quality photography and video, delivering remote healthcare to people in their homes, workplaces, and senior living homes is now possible.

What is Telemedicine?

Telemedicine allows healthcare professionals to provide clinical services using electronic communications and software, so patients do not have to come in for office visits.

Telemedicine technology is often used for:

  • Chronic condition management   
  • Follow-up visits
  • Medication management
  • Specialist consultations
  • Other clinical services that can be conducted remotely

How does Telemedicine differ from Telehealth?

The terms telemedicine and telehealth are often used together; however, there are essential differences between the two.

Telehealth includes services and technologies that not only provide patient care but improve the healthcare delivery system as a whole.

Telemedicine includes remote clinical services, whereas telehealth can provide remote non-clinical services, such as administrative meetings, continuing education for healthcare providers and provider training in addition to remote clinical services.

Telemedicine Benefits  

Telemedicine provides benefits to patients and providers.

Patient benefits include:

  • Less time away from work  
  • No travel time or expense
  • Children and elder visits are easier for caregivers
  • Not having to travel when feeling ill
  • Less exposure to germs  

Healthcare provider benefits include:

  • Less missed appointments
  • Ability to compete with retail health clinics and online providers
  • Better patient follow up and improved health for patients
  • Ease of managing chronic conditions
  • Private payer reimbursement
  • Increased revenue

How Telemedicine is Used Every Day

Telemedicine is being used in many ways; here are a few examples.

Preventative care

Telemedicine connects patients and providers to help with things such as quitting smoking and weight loss, which are both first steps to preventing heart disease and many other conditions.

Follow-up visits

Follow up is vital for patients to receive the best care possible. However, many patients cancel or miss these appointments. Providing a remote option is helpful for patients, reducing the number of no shows and increasing healthy outcomes.

Chronic disease management

Chronic disease management is a challenge for our health care system. Using telemedicine to help manage patients with chronic conditions makes it easier for them to receive care, while not having to deal with the stresses of coming to several appointments that are necessary for some conditions.

School or daycare visits   

Physicians can conduct remote visits with children who become ill at school or daycare, determine the urgency of the case and provide caregivers and parents with instructions and reassurance.  

Supporting Assisted-Living centers

When problems happen at night or on the weekends in assisted living centers, many residents end up in the hospital as no other options are available. By utilizing telemedicine, on-call doctors can remotely assess the situation and decide if hospitalization is the best course of action.

Telemedicine Reimbursement

Provider reimbursements are dependent on state legislation. A few states mandate that private payers reimburse the same amount for telemedicine that they would for in-person care. The reality is that most states with reimbursement mandates leave this decision up to the private payers. However, most private payers do reimburse at levels equivalent to in-person visits.  

Telemedicine Privacy and Security

Telemedicine is subject to HIPAA regulations. The technology used in telemedicine must use data encryption to protect patient data. Consumer video services such as Facetime do not meet the standards.

Is Telemedicine Easy to Use?

Telemedicine technology must be easy for both patients and providers to use. Telemedicine solutions strive to be simple for healthcare providers to set up and as easy to use as the smart devices patients use every day.

Telemedicine use is growing rapidly in the United States, making healthcare more convenient for both providers and patients.

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