In the future, experts say, internet-connected sensors—such as blood pressure monitors—could be paired with e-visits to help people manage chronic conditions from home. So far, such devices aren't widely used. But the list of conditions that patients and doctors can manage remotely is “ever expanding,” says Eric Topol, M.D., director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute.
“Creating a viable telemedicine program is both a short-term and a long-term proposition,” said Daniel Barchi, CIO at New York-Presbyterian. “It is possible, with a small team and early investment of resources, to create telemedicine capability in a specific vertical. It could be post-surgical follow-up visits for patients and surgeons, medication reconciliation video visits with a pharmacist, or urgent care emergency department video calls.”
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In addition to the parity laws, some states require providers to obtain patient consent before using telehealth services. Failure to obtain patient consent may result in physicians not being paid. Providers also have to be aware that while some states do not legally require consent, if they bill telemedicine through Medicaid, they will need written consent.
Telehealth is different from telemedicine because it refers to a broader scope of remote healthcare services than telemedicine. While telemedicine refers specifically to remote clinical services, telehealth can refer to remote non-clinical services, such as provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education, in addition to clinical services.
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telehealth encompasses a range of services, from health monitoring and patient consultation to the transmission of medical records. It’s more broadly defined as any electronic exchange of health information. A growing number of healthcare organizations have embraced telehealth because of the benefits it provides to patients and clinicians.
“It really helped our emergency room with treating stroke patients and benefited patient care by avoiding transportation when minutes matter,” he explained. “We see telemedicine as a solution to expand access to care without leaving the home, as well as a solution for gaining access to a specialist who may not have the patient volumes to relocate to our market.”
Home Health Care And Remote Monitoring Systems: Care that is provided to patients and their families in their residences to promote, maintain or restore health; or to minimize the effects of illness and disability, including terminal illnesses. In Medicare enrollment data and claims as well a Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey, home health care is defined as home visits made by professionals, including physicians, nurses, home health aides, therapist and social workers. The use of interactive devices and remote monitoring enable a patient’s vital signs to be sent on a regular basis to health care providers without the patient having to travel.
Chiron Health believes that the right technology is the key to ensuring both patient satisfaction and provider reimbursement. Our easy-to-use, real-time telehealth solution gives providers the piece of mind that they will be able to deliver top-quality care, while increasing revenues and remaining compliant with HIPAA and other laws and regulations. It is perfectly suited for chronic disease management and follow-up visits.
But getting doctors to jump on board is easier said than done, and takes time. Many are afraid of liability, as it's possible to miss something during a remote visit. And for years, it wasn't clear whether they would get paid as much as an in-person visit. Reimbursement questions are still getting resolved across different states, but most of the commercial and government plans are on board with the idea of telemedicine -- at least in specific circumstances.
The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines telehealth as the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.
There are several areas where telehealth medicine could make a significant impact. It could be used as a tool to remotely monitor patients who have recently been discharged. It may also help treat individuals with behavioral health issues who might normally avoid treatment due to its high cost, or to avoid any perceived public stigma.  The largest area where technology could advance medicine is in treating the chronically ill. These patients usually require many visits with several specialists who may practice at different and distant originating sites. To move telehealth forward, organizational leaders must present evidence to peers and patients that the technology offers value. In addition, care providers must work to transition patients from using telehealth services only for minor conditions (for headaches, colds, etc.), to accepting the technology as a viable replacement for costly physician office visits. Advocates for telehealth medicine must also develop quality controls, so that this potentially transformational tool can maximize its problem solving capabilities and its service effectiveness. To harness the benefits of telehealth technology, America’s brightest medical professionals (both experienced and up-and-coming) must make a concerted effort to incorporate the tool into their practices and make it a regular service offering. Today’s medical students — as they enter a world where telehealth is becoming more pervasive — can take part in what might be a monumental change in the way health professionals think about medical treatment.
While many branches of medicine have wanted to fully embrace telehealth for a long time, there are certain risks and barriers which bar the full amalgamation of telehealth into best practice. For a start, it is dubious as to whether a practitioner can fully leave the "hands-on" experience behind. Although it is predicted that telehealth will replace many consultations and other health interactions, it cannot yet fully replace a physical examination, this is particularly so in diagnostics, rehabilitation or mental health.
Telemedicine services can range widely by specialty. A surgeon might use telemedicine to do post-operation check-ins with patients, to make sure their wound is not infected. A gynecologist might use a live telemedicine solution to provide birth control counseling. An endocrinologist may do live videochats with patients to discuss recent lab results and answer questions.
Before setting up a telemedicine practice, an organizations administration and providers should know how laws differ when using telemedicine solutions. They should also consult with an expert to determine what equipment they need, and have a basic understanding of why they want to offer this in the first place. In addition, if it’s an existing practice, they should get buy-in as some physicians are not ready to make the transition.
Glenda Clemens has worked in primary care since 2001 and provided virtual care since 2012. She has practiced medicine as a nurse's aide, licensed practical nurse and registered nurse before receiving her Master of Nursing from the University of Oklahoma. From running her own practice to caring for veterans, she demonstrates a commitment to providing care to underserved populations. When she is not working, she enjoys knitting, crocheting and writing poetry.