Store and forward telehealth refers to the capture, storage, and transmittal of patient health information for asynchronous healthcare delivery using data storage and transmission technology. CAT Scans, MRIs, X-rays, photos, videos, and text-based patient data are gathered and sent to specialists and other members of a care team to evaluate patients and assist in their treatment. Technologies used for store and forward telehealth include secure servers and routers that temporarily house incoming packets of information and then route them to the appropriate end users. Secure email platforms are also used for store and forward telehealth.
Teleophthalmology is a branch of telemedicine that delivers eye care through digital medical equipment and telecommunications technology. Today, applications of teleophthalmology encompass access to eye specialists for patients in remote areas, ophthalmic disease screening, diagnosis and monitoring; as well as distant learning. Teleophthalmology may help reduce disparities by providing remote, low-cost screening tests such as diabetic retinopathy screening to low-income and uninsured patients. In Mizoram, India, a hilly area with poor roads, between 2011 till 2015, Tele-ophthalmology has provided care to over 10000 patients. These patients were examined by ophthalmic assistants locally but surgery was done on appointment after viewing the patient images online by Eye Surgeons in the hospital 6–12 hours away. Instead of an average 5 trips for say, a cataract procedure, only one was required for surgery alone as even post op care like stitch removal and glasses was done locally. There were huge cost savings in travel etc.
But as the National Policy Telehealth Resource Center notes, “Compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is more complex than simply using products that claim to be ‘HIPAA-compliant.” Not only does the telemedicine platform need to be compliant, all providers, patients, and staff using the tool need to ensure they are in compliance with HIPAA. A telemedicine software vendor, for instance, not only needs to build a secure product, but also ensure their company is operating in accordance with HIPAA.
Once the need for a Telehealth service is established, delivery can come within four distinct domains. They are live video (synchronous), store-and-forward (asynchronous), remote patient monitoring, and mobile health. Live video involves a real-time two-way interaction, such as patient/caregiver-provider or provider-provider, over a digital (i.e. broadband) connection. This often is used to substitute a face to face meeting such as consults, and saves time and cost in travel. Store-and-forward is when data is collected, recorded, and then sent on to a provider. For example, a patient's' digital health history file including x-rays and notes, being securely transmitted electronically to evaluate the current case. Remote patient monitoring includes patients' medical and health data being collected and transferred to a provider elsewhere who can continue to monitor the data and any changes that may occur. This may best suit cases that require ongoing care such as rehabilitation, chronic care, or elderly clients trying to stay in the community in their own homes as opposed to a care facility. Mobile health includes any health information, such as education, monitoring and care, that is present on and supported by mobile communication devices such as cell phones or tablet computers. This might include an application, or text messaging services like appointment reminders or public health warning systems.
Teladoc's private funding rounds included $9 million in December 2009, $4 million in January 2011, $18.6 million in September 2011, $15 million in September 2013, and $50 million in September 2014. On April 29, 2015, the company submitted preliminary confidential IPO paperwork, and on May 29, 2015 it publicly filed for its IPO. On July 1, 2015, the company went public with a New York Stock Exchange-listed IPO at $19 per share, which gave the company a market capitalization of $758 million and an enterprise value of $620 million. The initial response to the IPO was good: shares surged 50% on the opening day to close at $28.50, after opening at $29.90 and trading as high as $31.90.
“Our executive leadership have been strong supporters of telemedicine at UPMC for more than a decade,” said Sokolovich of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “With the initial success of tele-stroke and tele-behavioral health services, leadership recognizes the potential of telehealth in implementing new models of care that enhance the patient experience, support access to quality care regardless of geographic location, and maximize efficiencies.”
Despite the current reimbursement challenges, there are numerous benefits to increasing the use of telehealth to meet the nation’s demand for health care. Convenience of care, increased access, improved worker productivity from not having to take time off and travel to appointments, decreased costs, and clinician time savings are a few. For these reasons, providers, payers, and employers alike are moving forward with more and more telehealth solutions.
In Pakistan three pilot projects in telemedicine was initiated by the Ministry of IT & Telecom, Government of Pakistan (MoIT) through the Electronic Government Directorate in collaboration with Oratier Technologies (a pioneer company within Pakistan dealing with healthcare and HMIS) and PakDataCom (a bandwidth provider). Three hub stations through were linked via the Pak Sat-I communications satellite, and four districts were linked with another hub. A 312 Kb link was also established with remote sites and 1 Mbit/s bandwidth was provided at each hub. Three hubs were established: the Mayo Hospital (the largest hospital in Asia), JPMC Karachi and Holy Family Rawalpindi. These 12 remote sites were connected and on average of 1,500 patients being treated per month per hub. The project was still running smoothly after two years.
Obamacare—or the Affordable Care Act, as it is officially called—has been a catalyst for Teladoc’s recent growth surge. The law puts pressure on doctor’s offices, who are seeing more patients, as well as employers, who are looking to cut healthcare costs. As a result, telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular as a cheaper alternative to going to the emergency room. Insurance companies including Aetna (AET), Blue Shield of California and Oscar—which offers Obamacare plans on New York’s health exchange—have recently signed on with Teladoc, as have Home Depot (HD), T-Mobile (TMUS), pension giant CalPERS, and others.
“If there are areas of clinical need across the healthcare network, telemedicine may allow for better leveraging and expanding access to sub-specialists,” Sokolovich said. “Another opportunity could include better triaging patients through telemedicine-enabled provider-to-provider or provider-to-patient evaluations, which bring together experts who can quickly assess the best care path and eliminate unnecessary hospital admissions or emergency department visits.”
“Another distinction between telemedicine and D2C telehealth is that telemedicine consultations are often with medical specialists like cardiologists, dermatologists and pulmonologists,” Downey continued. “These often occur when the patient is in an underserved rural community and the specialist is in a large urban area. The distance makes it difficult to make and keep appointments otherwise. D2C telehealth, on the other hand, best deals with minor primary care issues over the phone. If deemed to be a more serious health concern, the patient is told to make an appointment with a specialist or to proceed to a hospital emergency room.”
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