As with many other aspects of modern life, new technologies have had profound impacts on the healthcare delivery system in the US. Modern healthcare customers think nothing of booking an appointment, requesting a prescription refill, or looking at test results online. Many of us count our steps, keep track of what we eat, and monitor our heart rate from a smart device. These days, healthcare and technology go hand in hand.
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.
In the United States, the major companies offering primary care for non-acute illnesses include Teladoc, American Well, and PlushCare. Companies such as Grand Rounds offer remote access to specialty care. Additionally, telemedicine companies are collaborating with health insurers and other telemedicine providers to expand marketshare and patient access to telemedicine consultations. For example, In 2015, UnitedHealthcare announced that it would cover a range of video visits from Doctor On Demand, American Well's AmWell, and its own Optum's NowClinic, which is a white-labeled American Well offering. On November 30, 2017, PlushCare launched in some U.S. states, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) therapy for prevention of HIV. In this PrEP initiative, PlushCare does not require an initial check-up and provides consistent online doctor visits, regular local laboratory testing and prescriptions filled at partner pharmacies.
These devices can be packed into a kit and sent out into the field. In this way, telemedicine has proved extremely useful in rural and developing countries like Gabon, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Nigeria, where there is very little access to high-quality medical care. Telemedicine eliminates the barrier of distance and improves access to medical services that would otherwise not be available in distant rural communities.
Ms. Officer described a study of Nemours' specialist telehealth services. The pediatric health system saved about $24 per orthopedic patient using telemedicine. On average, patients and their families traveled 85 miles round-trip for in-person services; with telemedicine, they received care without leaving their homes. "It's cost-saving, and time-saving, for patients and families," said Ms. Officer. "Telemedicine is here to stay."
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.
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.
In layman’s language, telemedicine and telehealth are terms that represent the transfer and exchange of medical information between different sites. From the American Telemedicine Association’s point of view; telemedicine, as well as telehealth, are all about transmission of still images, patient’s consultations through video conferencing, patient portals, remote control and monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education, patient-focused wireless applications and nursing call centers and many other applications.
Devices are also being used to track blood glucose levels and report high or low levels to patients and providers. In partnership with Stanford, Apple is testing whether its Apple Watch can be used to detect irregular heart patterns, and AliveCor’s KardiaBand allows Apple Watch wearers to perform electrocardiograms in 30 seconds that can easily be transmitted to physicians. Patients often go months without seeing their providers. RPM can allow for earlier detection of complications and identify patients who need to seek medical attention prior to in-person appointments. Moreover, chronic conditions can be more readily and efficiently managed resulting in higher quality care and outcomes as well as reduced costs.
Telemedicine has come a long way and there’s still so much room for growth. Currently, telemedicine is used to conference specialists on important appointments when patients have no other access, to provide diagnosis and prescriptions to remote areas where access to a physician isn’t always possible, and even to assist in invasive surgeries when a high caliber surgeon can’t reach a patient in time.
Policies and regulations in the telemedicine arena can be confusing for providers, vendors, and payers. Organizations interested in implementing telemedicine should be familiar with the laws in their state. For example, some states require informed consent from patients, while others do not. Some payers may not pay the same rate for telemedicine services as they do for in-person services. Practices should identify how providers will be paid, as some organizations seek grant funding.
Teladoc (NYSE:TDOC) is the global leader in virtual care. A mission-driven organization, the company is successfully modernizing how people access and experience healthcare, with a focus on high quality, lower costs, and improved outcomes around the world. The company’s award-winning, integrated clinical solutions are inclusive of telehealth, expert medical opinions, AI and analytics, and licensable platform services. With more than 2,000 employees, the organization delivers care in 125 countries and in more than 20 languages, partnering with employers, hospitals and health systems, and insurers to transform care delivery.
“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.”
With the interrelated fields of mobile health, digital health, health IT, telemedicine all constantly changing with new developments, it’s sometimes difficult to pin down a definition for these terms. In much of the healthcare industry, the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” are often used interchangeably. In fact, even the ATA considers them to be interchangeable terms. This isn’t surprising since the telehealth and telemedicine definitions encompass very similar services, including: medical education, e-health patient monitoring, patient consultation via video conferencing, health wireless applications, transmission of image medical reports, and many more.
Remote patient monitoring, which is sometimes called self-monitoring or self-testing, is a means of monitoring patient health and clinical information at a distance. It helps to simplify patient compliance with testing and it lowers the cost of frequent monitoring. It is frequently used in the treatment and management of chronic illnesses like asthma, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
Additionally, Medicare will only pay for telemedicine services when the patient is located in a Health Professional Shortage Area and receives care from an eligible provider. The medical service itself also has to fall under one of thesecovered CPT/HCPCS codes. When all these conditions are met, Medicare pays for 80% of the physician fee (other 20% is paid by the patient) and will additionally pay a facility fee to the originating site.
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