Online doctors are becoming a real thing across America, not just for those who are tech savvy, but for anyone. Although telemedicine was introduced in the United States in the 1960s, it didn’t become popular for the everyday man or women until this last decade. In the past, missing a prescription refill with your family doctor right before the weekend would mean going until Monday before you could even try to schedule an appointment. And even then, it might be days or weeks before you could get in to see the physician.
Telemedicine is used in many different medical fields, throughout ambulatory and hospital settings. Almost every medical field has some use for consulting a patient or another provider (usually a specialist) remotely. Because of shortages of care, limited access to specialists in some areas, and remote locations of patients (especially in rural or sparsely populated areas), telemedicine is incredibly useful to any healthcare provider trying to expand access to quality patient care.
This type of telemedicine allows providers to share patient information with a practitioner in another location. For example, a primary care physician can now share patient records and medical data with a specialist without being in the same room. Systems can transmit information across vast distances and different systems (sometimes) so one physician can know what another has already done. This leads to less duplicate testing and fewer instances of poor medication management.
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Telehealth has emerged as a critical tool in providing health care services.  The practice covers a broad range of medical technology and services that collectively define the discipline. Telehealth is especially beneficial for patients who live in rural communities and other remote areas where medical professionals use the Internet to gather and share information as well as monitor the health conditions of patients by using peripheral equipment and software such as video conferencing devices, store-and-forward imaging, and streaming media. The following information details important factors that are shaping this burgeoning field.
In-office visits and overnight stays at healthcare facilities can be difficult for individuals in poor health. Telehealth services reduce hospital readmission rates by enabling doctors to monitor patients outside the office. Because of this, many hospitals have already started to include some form of remote monitoring as part of their post-discharge plans. By equipping patients with wearable devices or other wireless technologies, clinicians can monitor vital signs and symptoms and adjust care as needed without an in-office visit. Alignment Healthcare, for example, developed a program to remotely monitor chronically ill and recently discharged patients and reduce 30-day readmission rates. Enrollees were given a package of Bluetooth-enabled monitoring equipment, including a Samsung tablet, blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter and scale.
Telemedicine companies that are consumer-facing offer the huge benefit of on-demand care for patients. A sick patient can simply login online and request a visit with one of the company’s doctors and get treatment. But this model, similar to the retail health movement, leads to a breakdown in care continuity. A random doctor who doesn’t know the patient, doesn’t know their whole medical history. The best approach to telemedicine? Providing tools to providers to easily connect with their own patients.
Lab work and scheduling will be handled virtually on Doctor On Demand’s mobile app. Between Quest and LabCorp, patients should be able to visit a lab in-person and continue care via the app with their assigned doctor. It’s a move that will allow the tele-provider to move beyond urgent care into preventative care and encourage more regular virtual visits.
A landmark 2010 report by the World Health Organization found that telemedicine – literally meaning “healing from a distance” — can be traced back to the mid-1800s, was first featured in published accounts early on in the 20th Century, and adopted its modern form in the late 1960s and early 1970s, primarily through the military and space industries. Owing to the fact that much of the technology encompassed in today’s telemedicine platform wasn’t around back then, and noting a 2007 study that found 104 different peer-reviewed definitions for the word, the WHO settled on its own broad-based definition:
^ Arora, Sanjeev; Thornton, Karla; Murata, Glen; Deming, Paulina; Kalishman, Summers; Dion, Denise; Parish, Brooke; Burke, Thomas; Pak, Wesley; Dunkelberg, Jeffrey; Kistin, Martin; Brown, John; Jenkusky, Steven; Komaromy, Miriam; Qualls, Clifford (2011). "Outcomes of Treatment for Hepatitis C Virus Infection by Primary Care Providers". New England Journal of Medicine. 364 (23): 2199–207. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1009370. PMC 3820419. PMID 21631316.
As various parties seek more efficient ways to provide care at less cost to the patient, telemedicine's role has grown. It is often a time-saving way for a consumer to see and speak to a clinician for minor and non-urgent medical needs instead of going to a primary care physician's office or emergency department. In recent years, many states have passed laws that make telemedicine easier to practice, and federal health regulators are also exploring ways to further grant Medicare reimbursements for telemedicine services.
Bluetooth Wireless: Bluetooth refers to an industrial specification that applies to wireless area networks. Bluetooth technology offers a way of connecting and exchanging information between devices, including laptops, mobile phones, PCs, video game consoles, digital cameras and printers over a globally unlicensed and secure short-range radio frequency. The Bluetooth Special Interest Groups has developed and licensed the Bluetooth specifications.
SSM Health telehealth programs use a variety of applications and services including two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technology. These modern communication pipelines offer practitioners a channel to interact with the patient and exchange information, pictures and video. Our telehealth programs:
Likely one of the most popular specialities for telemedicine, mental health practices can increase revenue, streamline patient flow, and provide counselling sessions from anywhere. With telemedicine, patients in rural areas can now access mobile and web apps to speak with their therapist. In addition, cancellations and no-shows are less likely to occur. Mental health practices that implement telemedicine can also see more patients and still provide a high level of patient care. This leads to increased profitability and effective time management.
Between the years 2000 and 2050, the number of people aged 60 years or older is expected to increase from 605 million to 2 billion. The rapidly increasing elderly patient population have become one of the main beneficiaries of telehealth. Companies like Comarch, American Well, and Global Med are building doctor video chat platforms targeted at the elderly.
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Thanks to telemedicine programs, hospitals, clinics and all other health facilities can ensure that patients receive the best care possible when that care is in their hometown or even hundred of miles away. So what is telehealth’s role in this? It can play a major role in addressing some of the upcoming challenges for healthcare in the United States. For instance, the population growth from 2008-2030 is set at 20%, that is 363 million people, which is predicted to bring about a shortage of healthcare professionals and the lack of specialists and medical facilities in rural areas. Additionally, there is an expected increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes, congestive heart failure, and obstructive pulmonary disease. Statistics indicates that almost 5 million patients are admitted to the intensive care unit that accounts for 20% of the hospital’s operating budgets. Telemedicine can reduce the impact of such challenges by connecting the right people with the correct resources and expertise in real-time.
“For the most part, an interaction — whether in person, via telemedicine or on the phone — between a patient and a physician can be beneficial,” Downey wrote in a 2015 blog. “The sticking point is the issuance of a prescription medication to a previously unknown person who the doctor has never examined and for which the doctor has no access to the medical record. And here's where telemedicine differs from telehealth. During a telemedicine visit, the patient is seen by the provider. A patient presenter is with the patient in most cases, and follows the directions of the remote provider in placing a stethoscope or exam camera on the patient's body, providing both sounds and images. The remote provider also has the benefit of an array of other medical devices to gather patient information not available to a D2C telehealth physician.”
Cheryl Graf has worked in primary care since 1996 and provided virtual care since 2014. She received her Master of Nursing from Pacific Lutheran University. She also works for a local health system and provides temporary support for emergency departments near her home. Her experience includes emergency services, family practice, pediatrics and urgent care. Additionally, she has created and developed training materials for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs in Washington State. In her spare time, she enjoys golf, gardening and family time.
In the early days, telemedicine was used mostly to connect doctors working with a patient in one location to specialists somewhere else. This was of great benefit to rural or hard to reach populations where specialists aren’t readily available. Throughout the next several decades, the equipment necessary to conduct remote visits remained expensive and complex, so the use of the approach, while growing, was limited.
Sometimes called asynchronous telemedicine, store-and-forward solutions enable healthcare providers to forward and share patient medical data (lab results, images, videos, records) with a provider at a different location. These platforms offer a kind of sophisticated, secure, email platform – a way to share private patient data online in a secure way.
While Doctor on Demand’s chief executive Adam Jackson says the start-up targets mainly retail customers who pay $40 for 10 minutes or so with a physician, it signed up Comcast , its first major corporate customer which will subsidize its employees video visits. Doctor on Demand has a network of more than 1,400 general practitioners, internists and pediatricians in 47 states. They diagnose simple ailments, such as pink eye, sore throat and allergies. Insurance doesn’t reimburse video consultations, but customers can use pre-tax dollars from their health savings account to pay.
In the NICU/ICU, telemedicine can be used in a variety of ways. One approach is by using HD webcams to see the baby from different angles. High-risk infants can be seen by a specialist at another hospital by simply sharing the video within seconds. This decreases the need for infants to be transferred to another hospital, which is costly and time consuming.
Equipping nursing homes and hospital rooms this way would enable a variety of practitioners to provide bedside care more conveniently—for the patient and the provider. Patients wouldn't have to be transported, and practitioners could see more patients without disruption. In addition, the primary care provider, family, and friends located elsewhere could link into the video consultations, enhancing communication between all parties involved in the patient's care.
Telehealth Reimbursement Medicaid: According to Chiron Health, Medicaid systems in 48 states will reimburse for telehealth provided via live video systems while 19 state Medicaid programs will pay for RPM. 12 state programs will finance store and forward telehealth and seven states allow payment for all three telehealth categories. But even though Medicaid is more accommodating of telehealth than Medicare, rules governing payment through state Medicaid programs vary considerably. For instance, some states require patients to be in a medical facility and not at home while receiving telehealth care, and others require a licensed provider to be co-located with patients while they are receiving telehealth services.
Telemedicine is viewed as a cost-effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care (e.g., face-to-face consultations or examinations between provider and patient) that states can choose to cover under Medicaid. This definition is modeled on Medicare's definition of telehealth services (42 CFR 410.78). Note that the federal Medicaid statute does not recognize telemedicine as a distinct service.
Erin Aas has worked in primary care since 2005 and provided virtual care since 2012. Since receiving his Master of Nursing from Seattle University, he has provided comprehensive primary healthcare and promoted cultural competency in a variety of community health settings. In addition to his full-time work in virtual care, he works shifts in a local Emergency Department. He is proficient in conversational and medical Spanish. Outside of work, he is an accomplished guitarist, choral composer and Ironman triathlete.