Patients often look for a quick and inexpensive second opinion from a specialist, after diagnosis of a medical condition. Telemedicine has stepped up, by providing solutions in this aspect as well. Companies and traditional healthcare services such as Partners Healthcare, 2nd.MD, DoctorSpring, and Cleaveland Clinic are providing quick and efficient second opinions using telehealth.
Telemedicine regulations also determine the telemedicine reimbursement rules followed by Medicaid and private payers in that state. With the explosion of new telemedicine companies and patient demand for virtual care, the number of telemedicine-related legislation currently on the table is at an all-time high. Most U.S. states have passed new telemedicine regulations recently, or have a proposed bill awaiting decision.
There are a variety of payment models to fund telemedicine services. For example, some health systems offer telemedicine consultations as part of their regular care services, and payers charge patients based on insurance plans or government reimbursement schedules. In other cases, a patient's employer offers virtual care options as part of health insurance coverage premiums. Some people may opt to independently use a telemedicine vendor for a flat fee.
Clinicians are conquering distance and providing access to patients who are not able to travel by providing appointments utilizing real-time video communication platforms. Video conferencing technology has been utilized to provide care for inmates, military personnel, and patients located in rural locations for some time. Also, suppliers of both care and financing such as Kaiser Permanente, the Defense Department, and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been exploiting telehealth modalities to increase access to healthcare services and promote better care quality. In another example, S.C. Department of Corrections and the Medical University of South Carolina are using video scopes and high-resolution cameras to diagnose and treat inmates remotely. They are also conducting virtual appointments using video/audio communication applications to reduce prisoner transportation costs and increase safety by keeping inmates in and providers out of correctional facilities.
As the CCHP notes, different organizations have different definitions for telehealth. California very specifically defines it as “the mode of delivering healthcare services and public health via information and communication technologies to facilitate the diagnosis, consultation, treatment, education, care management and self-management of a patient's healthcare while the patient is at the originating site and the healthcare provider is at a distant site. Telehealth facilitates patient self-management and caregiver support for patients and includes synchronous interactions and asynchronous store and forward transfers.” The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), meanwhile, defines it as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.”
With many rural areas facing a shortage of specialists, telemedicine enables individual doctors to reach more patients. And the cost to patients for telehealth consultations is often lower than an in-office visit. By serving more patients in a shorter amount of time, healthcare organizations can cost-effectively grow their membership while increasing care quality and patient satisfaction.
Brenda Stavish has practiced medicine since 1987 and provided virtual care since 2014. In 2006, she received her Master of Nursing from Seattle Pacific University. Over the course of her career, she has worked in women's health clinics, school districts, and primary/chronic care settings. She believes in patient care that brings together the health of the mind, body, and spirit, equally. In her spare time she enjoys travel, wine tasting and cooking.
Doctor On Demand is one of the best-funded Bay Area digital health companies. The region's top digital health startups pulled in $1.5 billion in 2016. As health care continues finding customers outside hospital walls, the industry has seen even brick-and-mortar providers investing in the tech. Fifty million Americans are now willing to switch doctors if given a video visit option, according to a recent trends report.
Although, traditional medicine relies on in-person care, the need and want for remote care has existed from the Roman and pre-Hippocratic periods in antiquity. The elderly and infirm who could not visit temples for medical care sent representatives to convey information on symptoms and bring home a diagnosis as well as treatment. In Africa, villagers would use smoke signals to warn neighbouring villages of disease outbreak. The beginnings of telehealth have existed through primitive forms of communication and technology.
There’s a lot to be optimistic about in the future of telemedicine. With rapid advances in technology, it’s likely that telemedicine will only become easier and more widely accepted in the coming years. Already, smart glasses (like Google Glass) and smart watches (like the Apple Watch) can monitor patients’ health data and transmit them in real time to health professionals. Programs like clmtrackr can analyze a person’s emotional state based on their facial expressions and could be used to monitor mental wellness. Digital health startups like Augmedix, are experimenting with automatically transcribing documentation during a patient visit. Advances in robotic surgeries allow surgeons to operate on patients from afar.
The benefits posed by telehealth challenge the normative means of healthcare delivery set in both legislation and practice. Therefore, the growing prominence of telehealth is starting to underscore the need for updated regulations, guidelines and legislation which reflect the current and future trends of healthcare practices. Telehealth enables timely and flexible care to patients wherever they may be; although this is a benefit, it also poses threats to privacy, safety, medical licensing and reimbursement. When a clinician and patient are in different locations, it is difficult to determine which laws apply to the context. Once healthcare crosses borders different state bodies are involved in order to regulate and maintain the level of care that is warranted to the patient or telehealth consumer. As it stands, telehealth is complex with many grey areas when put into practice especially as it crosses borders. This effectively limits the potential benefits of telehealth.
Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN): A common dial-up transmission path used for videoconferencing. ISDN services are on demand services where another IDSN based device is dialed, and per minuted charges are accumulated at a certain contracted rate. The site that places the call is then billed. The service is similar to the dialing features that come with making long distance phone calls. The person how initiates the call pays the bill. Connections of up to 128Kbps are permitted by ISDN.
Once shared, that knowledge takes on a life of its own, growing and moving in all directions. Primary-care clinicians learn from their specialist mentors at the university hubs, but they also learn from each other. And by applying the knowledge they gain in the field, they produce new knowledge, which they then relay to their specialist and primary-care colleagues in their learning community.
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