Telemedicine is the use of electronic communications such as a video camera, two way radio or a mobile smart phone application to exchange medical information. It was introduced nearly 40 years ago as a way of providing access to patients in remote locations. Telemedicine began in rough form by indians who used smoke signals to inform the the tribe that a member was ill. As you can guess, it has advanced considerably since then, and is now used by schools, home health agencies, and even private workplaces. Telemedicine simply works like this: A patient or healthcare advocate takes an image of a wound on the patients body and emails it to a medical doctor, who then diagnosis it. A patient uses a live interactive video feed to their primary care physician who assesses their ailment just as if they were there in front of them. A patient wears a heart monitor which collects a ongoing health data and delivers it to a remote diagnostic testing facility for interpretation.
This gives a physician the capability to reach a broader range of patients located in remote locations. It enables providers to see a larger patient load in a single day. It even allows a provider to spend more quality time with patients, who are not being rushed to move to the next waiting patient. According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of healthcare and increase efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays. With the changes to the delivery of medicine about to occur in 2014 look for Telemedicine to become more of a partner in the diagnosis of medical ailments. The additional obligations which doctors are sure to have in 2014 make the use of electronic communications nearly a necessity. It may even be where multiple patients are diagnosed at the same time by using a Telemedicine Technique. U.S. Healthcare providers will become overwhelmed having to see nearly 30 million more patients beginning in 2014 that electronic communication methods will be THE only way to attend to some patients. At this time, there is not a commensurate increase in the number of graduating MD’s to keep up with the supply of new patients. Therefore, our medical providers are stuck between a rock and a hard place!
Barriers to Telemedicine
Currently there is a lot of red tape which is keeping many of the Telemedicine initiatives from becoming much more than just a pilot program. There is a bill called the Telehealth Promotion Act of 2012 which establishes a federal reimbursement policy and would afford the use of Telemedicine to nearly 75 million Americans. Hospitals would also receive incentives for keeping readmission rates down. Right now, hospitals are being penalized through cuts in Medicare reimbursements (Government Program) for having too many patients readmitted within 30 days. So Telemedicine can help considerably with assisting hospitals avoid these cuts.
So what does this mean for the United States having the best medical care in the world? Personally, I believe high quality care will suffer. Anytime you replace a highly personal service (patient/doctor relationship) with automation, the quality is bound to suffer. The fact that there will be a doctor shortage is sure to have negative effects on care. Expect your care to be handled less by an MD, and more by a nurse practitioner or a physicians assistant. There is roughly a 6 year training difference between an MD and a nurse practitioner by the way. I believe the use of Telemedicine will take off in the next few years, because the government will be looking for any and all ways to minimize their costs. No doubt, Telemedicine can be accomplished inexpensively compared to typical delivery methods, but I truly believe this will lead to an overall decreased quality healthcare model in the US.
Your Thoughts on the use of Telemedicine?
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