Whether on vacation with your kids, away from your home base for business, or in between family doctors, the use of online medical care opens windows and doors to around the clock consultations and medical services. The internet has made it possible for people in rural towns to reach city doctors, for men and women on the road to access much needed prescriptions, and for busy parents to get medical help without packing the kids up and hauling them down to the nearest clinic.
Monitoring center links are used for one type of telemedicine – remote patient monitoring. This type of telemedicine link creates a digital connection between a patient’s house and a remote monitoring facility, so that a patient’s medical data can be measured at home and transmitted electronically to a distant medical monitoring facility. These links usually take the form of internet, SMS, or telephone connections. They’re most commonly used for monitoring of pulmonary, cardiac, or fetal medical data.
Those in the healthcare industry recognize that medication management is a big deal, especially among seniors. Older adults are more likely to forget to take their medications, which is where telemedicine comes in. Providers and other healthcare professionals can use telemedicine technology to monitor when and if their patients took their medicine. As a result, this leads to fewer hospital readmissions and enhances medication compliance.
All the numbers point to the exponential growth of telemedicine – in other words, it’s not going anywhere. The global telemedicine market was worth $17.8 billion in 2014, and is projected to grow well beyond that by 2020. ATA President Dr. Reed Tuckson estimated that approximately 800,000 virtual consultations will take place in the U.S. in 2015. And health systems, doctors, legislators, and patients are fueling that upward trend. A recent survey found an incredible90% of healthcare executives were in the process of developing or implementing a telemedicine program, and 84% said these program were important. IHS projected the number of patients using telemedicine will rise from roughly 350,000 in 2013 to 7 million by 2018. And with this high demand for telemedicine, legislators are scrambling to pass bills that offer both support and needed regulations; in August 2015, Congress had 26 telemedicine-related bills waiting for decision.
^ Wadsworth, Hannah E; Galusha-Glasscock, Jeanine M; Womack, Kyle B; Quiceno, Mary; Weiner, Myron F; Hynan, Linda S; Shore, Jay; Cullum, C. Munro (2016). "Remote Neuropsychological Assessment in Rural American Indians with and without Cognitive Impairment". Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology. 31 (5): 420. doi:10.1093/arclin/acw030. PMID 27246957.
The popularity of real-time telemedicine solutions has increased rapidly in the past few years, as companies like Teladoc and DoctoronDemand have offered an affordable, easy way for patients to connect with a doctor from anywhere and get immediate treatment. Doctors are also starting to adopt real-time telemedicine solutions to give their patients the added convenience of virtual doctor visits, improve their care outcomes, boost work-life balance, and reap the many other benefits. With simply a compatible device, internet connection, microphone, and webcam – a patient can now get medical treatment. That’s the beauty of real-time telemedicine.
A major legal action prompt in telehealth thus far has been issues surrounding online prescribing and whether an appropriate clinician-patient relationship can be established online to make prescribing safe, making this an area that requires particular scrutiny. It may be required that the practitioner and patient involved must meet in person at least once before online prescribing can occur, or that at least a live-video conference must occur, not just impersonal questionnaires or surveys to determine need.
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:
Medicaid will cover telemedicine services depending on the legislation passed in that state. Since Medicaid programs are state-run, they follow state-specific telemedicine regulations. In 46 states, Medicaid offers some kind of physician reimbursement for telemedicine services delivered over live video. 26 state Medicaid programs will also pay an additional facility or transmission fee to cover the cost of hosting a telemedicine visit, or transmitting patient medical data in a secure way. The specific restrictions and regulations around telemedicine vary widely by state. To find out more about you’re your state Medicaid program will cover, visit the Center for Connected Health Policy’s recent report.
Informed consent is another issue – should the patient give informed consent to receive online care before it starts? Or will it be implied if it is care that can only practically be given over distance? When telehealth includes the possibility for technical problems such as transmission errors or security breaches or storage which impact on ability to communicate, it may be wise to obtain informed consent in person first, as well as having backup options for when technical issues occur. In person, a patient can see who is involved in their care (namely themselves and their clinician in a consult), but online there will be other involved such as the technology providers, therefore consent may need to involve disclosure of anyone involved in the transmission of the information and the security that will keep their information private, and any legal malpractice cases may need to involve all of those involved as opposed to what would usually just be the practitioner.
However, telemedicine also has a few downsides — by nature of its virtual interaction, and because of societal and technological barriers that could change in the future. The good news is, with the growing popularity and widespread acceptance of telemedicine, we’re likely to see the cons of telemedicine resolve themselves. With new technological advancements and shifting policy that increasingly supports telemedicine, we’re continuously finding ways to improve telemedicine and make it a viable, even advantageous form of healthcare delivery for many medical scenarios.
Interoperability: This refers to two systems ((software, networks, communication devices, computers and other types of information technology components))or more being able to interact with each other and exchange information so that predictable results can be achieved. There are three different kinds of interoperability: technical; clinical and human/operational.
RPM telemedicine is quickly rising in popularity as more health professionals realize its potential effects on chronic care management. For instance, a patient with diabetes who has a glucose tracker in their home can measure their glucose levels at regular intervals and transmit them to their doctor. If all is well, those results are simply recorded. If something looks off, the physician may flag it and call in the patient for a consult.
These emerging models produce virtual communities of learning and practice that embrace all members of the healthcare team. They are the latest point on the telemedicine continuum that began with the point-to-point connection achieved by Einthoven's pioneering electrocardiogram. Building out the connection established under telemedicine into an ever-expanding knowledge-sharing network can create new potential to improve health and save lives.
Projections for the growth of the telehealth market are optimistic, and much of this optimism is predicated upon the increasing demand for remote medical care. According to a recent survey, nearly three-quarters of U.S. consumers say they would use telehealth. At present, several major companies along with a bevvy of startups are working to develop a leading presence in the field.
“Telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty,” the organization continues. “Products and services related to telemedicine are often part of a larger investment by healthcare institutions in either information technology or the delivery of clinical care. Even in the reimbursement fee structure, there is usually no distinction made between services provided on site and those provided through telemedicine and often no separate coding required for billing of remote services. ATA has historically considered telemedicine and telehealth to be interchangeable terms, encompassing a wide definition of remote healthcare. Patient consultations via video conferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education, consumer-focused wireless applications and nursing call centers, among other applications, are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth.”
The laws regarding reimbursements change regularly as more service providers incorporate telehealth technology into their practices. Reimbursement procedures can vary by state, practice, insurer, and service.  Care providers need to understand several facts, regulations, and laws to navigate Medicare telehealth reimbursements. They must first scrutinize whether the distance between the facility (the originating site) and the patient is far enough to qualify as a distant site. The location must also qualify as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) per Medicare guidelines. Additionally, the originating site must fall under Medicare’s classification as a legally authorized private practice, hospital, or critical access hospital (CAH). For instance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ranks the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center as a top facility in need of physician services based on these criteria. Care providers must also use proper insurance coding to be reimbursed for hosting services that use telehealth technologies. For now, collecting reimbursements for telehealth services remains simpler for practitioners who limit the scope to which they apply the technology.
There are currently two major ways you can access remote care from your home: through e-visits with your own provider (if they’re offered) or through a consult with an online-only service, such as Teladoc. This could be as simple as talking to your doctor over the phone or using the Teladoc app to video chat with a doctor, nurse practitioner, or other provider who can write a prescription.