Telemedicine, which means “healing at a distance,” allows health care professionals to gauge, diagnose and treat patients at a distance using telecommunications technology. This approach is becoming an increasingly important part of the American healthcare infrastructure and a quickly growing part of healthcare delivery. There are currently about 200 telemedicine networks, with 3,500 service sites in the US. In 2011 alone, over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine were delivered by the Veterans Health Administration. Some forms of telemedicine are now used by more than half of all U.S. hospitals.
What are the benefits of telemedicine?
Telemedicine uses modern technology to make it possible for physicians and patients to communicate virtually in real-time interaction. Typically, a smartphone or computer and the internet are all that must have a remotely secure live video and audio to supply clinical services to patients whenever and wherever needed. Telemedicine is often used for consultation, follow-up visits, chronic conditions management, medication management, and other clinical services. Studies have shown that telemedicine interventions, including telephone-assisted care, are variously associated with improvement in all-cause mortality, hospital admission rates, and improved quality of life. And the use of it makes it easier and less expensive for patients to keep control over their health. When used under the right conditions and for proper cases, telemedicine is as safe and effective as in-person care.
Convenience. Telemedicine allows people to access care at a place and time that is most suitable for them. Problems often occur at night or on weekends, making hospitalization the only choice even for less urgent problems. With telemedicine, you do not have to drive to the doctor’s office or clinic, park, walk or sit in a waiting room when you are sick. On-call doctors can conduct a remote visit from the comfort of your bed or sofa to decide if hospitalization is necessary. Virtual visits are often easier to fit into your busy schedule. You may not even have to take leave time from work or arrange for a child or elder care depending on your schedule.
Comfort. Telemedicine can also be a more comfortable approach to seeking healthcare for those patients who are reluctant to attend off-site appointments due to anxiety or even fear of social situations, particularly those feeling daunted by both medical professionals and their associated surroundings. Access to care. Telemedicine was particularly of great benefit to places such as rural, remote, and/or post-disaster communities, where there are no constant healthcare services that are readily available to these populations, or to places where transportation conditions are less than best, such as during heavy snow or hailstorm. Telemedicine supplies emergency healthcare for dangerous cases without the need for travel.
Control of Infectious Illness. Telemedicine adds a dimension of clinical protection for users by cutting the risk of picking up an infection or the possibility of transmitting COVID-19, flu, and other infectious diseases between healthcare professionals and patients. Telemedicine can be used by doctors to prescreen patients for possible infectious diseases. It also saves sick people, especially those who are chronically ill, pregnant, elderly, or immunocompromised, from having to come in and wait in the doctor’s waiting rooms and becoming exposed to other potentially contagious patients. Better Assessment. Telemedicine can give an advantage to some specialty practitioners because they can see you in your home environment, find clues in your surroundings that cause certain conditions, observe you, and assess your ability to navigate and look out for yourself in your home.
Family Connections. It always feels good to have someone who can help you when consulting a doctor. Telemedicine can connect your family member on the video conference if you authorize it, even if that person lives out of town, or even across the country.
Primary Care and Chronic Condition Management. Regular visits with doctors are essential to your family’s health. Telemedicine makes it easy to connect with your doctor or nurse practitioner.
Lower Cost. Telemedicine appointments typically cost less than in-person visits do. This reduces out-of-pocket costs, which allows more patients to have access to the care they need. Some studies also suggest that preventive telemedicine results in a decrease in the time spent in hospitals, supplying cost savings.
Insurance Reimbursement. Many private health insurance companies allow doctors to bill for telemedicine services. However, their policies differ in every state and insurance plan, so it is important to check before seeing a doctor remotely.
For Medicare patients, many restrictions are set by national telehealth policy on patient location, services provided over telemedicine, and facilities at which patients receive these services. However, the Medicare Chronic Care Management Program is a national policy that sets no such restrictions on practicing telemedicine.
Medicaid reimbursement varies from state to state, leading to a patchwork of various policies and reimbursement requirements.
Online Psychiatric Support. Telemedicine is also a clever way to get mental health assessment and counseling. It can address therapeutic care for people experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression. It also allows doctors to supervise patients with other mental health issues and help them cope with the challenges associated with their chronic pain.