Healthcare Technology Featured Article

April 26, 2016

Long Lines in Clinics? Telemedicine to the Rescue

Over the last decade, the healthcare industry has made huge strides. However, one thing remains the same – long lines in clinics.  Take the cases that happened where a father and daughter who rushed from one door to another struggling to get help, and the patient who spent half a day trying to visit an ophthalmologist to finally get an appointment with the help of a friend. It seems like nothing has changed despite the technical progress made over the years. Is there any way to improve the situation? The short answer is, yes: telemedicine applications.

I’m sure you agree that when you or your relatives catch the flu or are in need of emergency help, waiting in lines just isn’t acceptable. And while tools such as health monitoring apps have their place, in these cases, they wouldn’t be of much assistance.  In an ideal world, as clinics adopt telemedicine technology, patients will be able to instantly connect with a physician via a two-way video application.

Sounds great, but how does telemedicine work?

The fact is telemedicine involves a pretty simple process; it looks a little something like this:

  • The patient calls the personal physician via a special video tool or app.
  • During this session, the doctor adds symptoms to the patient`s virtual card available in the app. The patient full medical history is also recorded on the card for the doctor’s reference.
  • The patient describes symptoms, the doctor asks questions, and, they have the advantage of seeing each other.
  • If necessary, the physician sends a nurse to the patient`s home or office to take tests.
  • Finally, test results and prescriptions are made available to the patient within the app.

That`s it! The patient can start the treatment. No need to wait in lines or expose yourself to others who are sick.  

There is one thing that patients should understand; telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty. All the products and services related to telemedicine are often a part of a larger investment by healthcare institutions. They are developed and implemented with one important goal - to improve the process of clinical care.

So far, telemedicine has been used in such medical fields as dermatology, behavioral health and cardiology. Telemedicine apps are the great tools that provide ICU physicians and nurses with a second set of eyes and help patients undergo rehab at home. The area of telemedicine adoption is wide and it has room to grow, according to an American Hospital Association Trendwatch report.

Telemedicine: the advantages

Receiving services delivered via telemedicine can be just as good as the traditional in-person consultations, and performed while in the comfort of your own home. After all, patients are contacting the same doctors at the same clinics.

In addition to receiving an instant connection with medical staff, the information delivered via the app is highly secure as long as the patient connects via a secure connection (aka not a public, open network). Medical privacy issues extend to the telehealth industry according to the law. Under HIPAA, telemedicine clinicians have the same responsibility to protect patients’ medical records and keep information regarding their treatments confidential. Electronic files, such as images or audio/video recordings, are stored with the same precaution and care as paper documents.

Along with security and convenience, telemedicine offers a great number of other advantages. Cost efficiency and time saving are the most evident of them. Remote analysis and monitoring services, and electronic data storage allows healthcare providers, patients and insurance companies to decrease costs. Telemedicine saves time by reducing the time needed for unnecessary non-urgent ER visits, and waiting and traveling long distances for regular check-ups.

Telehealth services also provide wider specialists and referring access. Patients in remote areas don`t have to endure long appointment commutes to visit doctors. Due to telemedicine, patients can refer to a specific physician regardless of location, which increases the geographical coverage of healthcare services.

Finally, telemedicine has become an additional stimulus for patients. It has been observed that the use of telehealth services makes patients more committed to their personal goals, because it has become easier for them to reach physicians with questions and report early signs.

All of these benefits go to show that telemedicine provides a very patient-centered approach. Patients can address healthcare issues quickly with real-time urgent care consultations and learn about treatment options within minutes.

Telemedicine: the challenges

Although telemedicine gives healthcare providers and patients considerable advantages, it poses certain difficulties as well. First of all, adoption of telemedicine results in restructuring IT staff, purchase of new equipment, and of course, training. Medical staff needs to be trained on the new systems to ensure a solid ROI. That requires time.

Another shortage of telemedicine is the reduced care continuity. Instant access means random switching among healthcare providers – care continuity suffers. Physicians at different clinics do not have access to the full medical history of the patient thus, telemedicine providers must apply sound data solutions to maintain adequate and accessible patient records.

Finally, there are technical problems associated with telemedicine. The possibility of a poor broadband connection could lead to “possible patient mismanagement.” Telehealth is a good alternative when there is no need for a physical exam. However fast and convenient, some procedures just cannot be performed digitally (i.e. MRI). Therefore, in-person visits will not become a complete thing of the past anytime soon.

Though telehealth can pose certain difficulties (as to all technologies when first finding their way), those who have adopted the technology are already reaping the benefits, as are their patients. The adoption of telemedicine applications at clinics has the potential to greatly improve the whole approach to treatment, delivery of care services and radically change physicians’ workloads. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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