Is Telemedicine The Upcoming Sector Of The Healthcare Industry

Telemedicine holds significant promise to provide qualified medical care without the time and hassle of commuting to and from appointments. It can bring medical care into the home to meet some primary and urgent care needs. It also provides access to care to patients without reliable transportation or those who may be too sick to travel long distances. For some patients, such as those with cystic fibrosis who do not want to come to the hospital for fear of contracting multiple antibiotic-resistant bacteria, a virtual office visit may be safer.

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At the same time, telemedicine helps reduce healthcare costs. For example, it:

  • Optimizes staff distribution and healthcare resources within a healthcare facility and across an entire system.
  • Enables primary care providers to conduct appointments without additional office staff at any time, thereby extending office hours and availability.
  • Reduces the financial impact of patient no-shows.
  • Improves patient engagement and outcomes.
  • Reduces unnecessary office and emergency room visits and hospital admissions.

Care quality: Numerous studies External link  have demonstrated External link  that care delivered through telemedicine can rival traditional in-person interactions in terms of quality. In fact, in certain specialties — such as mental health External link  — telemedicine has been shown to facilitate outstanding care, with positive outcomes and high degrees of patient satisfaction.

Improved access: Telemedicine can provide high-quality health care services to patients living in rural areas External link  and those with transportation or mobility difficulties. At the same time, telemedicine enables health care practices to cater to a much broader set of patients than those living locally.

Convenience: Telehealth services allow patients to consult with a provider from virtually anywhere External link , whether it’s their home or the office.

Cost savings: This model has been shown to improve efficiency and lower health care costs through fewer hospital admissions, shorter hospital stays, reduced travel times, and improved management of chronic diseases. For example, one study External link  found that the use of hybrid telehealth technologies could eliminate as many as 387,000 transports to ERs annually, resulting in a cost savings of $327 million.

Stronger team-based care: Telemedicine allows non-clinicians to engage specialists to help with diagnosis and treatment, meaning it can strengthen team-based care. For one hospital chain in Arizona, a combination of telemedicine, team-based care coordination, and home monitoring technologies recently reduced External link  “unnecessary hospitalizations External link ” by a staggering 45 percent, and costs fell by a third.

Accessibility: This model also allows for culturally and linguistically competent providers — such as those versed in sign language or non-English languages — to reach patients whose immediate care surroundings don’t support those needs. For instance, telemedicine has been identified as a successful means of administering mental health services External link  to deaf patients, a difficult health challenge to address given the shortage of professionals who specialize in it. For patients whose conditions or location limit their mobility, telemedicine can also connect the dots in care: a 2015 study External link  found that it was a preferred treatment option for children with disabilities like cerebral palsy.

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The Challenges

Difficulty diagnosing: When a primary care provider can’t examine a patient firsthand, there is the potential to miss certain signs and symptoms, which can lead to an inaccurate or incomplete diagnosis. For some conditions, it’s not always possible to make a diagnosis or facilitate treatment through anything but an in-person examination.

Limited coverage by insurers: Not all telemedicine services are covered by private insurance payers or reimbursed by federal programs. Medicare, for example, places specific restrictions External link  on telehealth services, including the requirement that patients must be located in a medical facility and not their own home while receiving services.

Privacy issues: A clinician providing telemedicine services must adhere to confidentiality standards set forth by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act External link  (HIPAA). Online communications may be susceptible to hacker activity External link  or privacy breaches that could compromise patient information.

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