An Overview of Telemedicine
Telemedicine, sometimes also referred to as telehealth, is (in layman’s terms) the use of technologies to enable remote and virtual clinical health care. The major elements of telemedicine are :
- Video conferencing
- e.g., consultation with a patient to provide care, or soliciting the input of a specialist in rendering a diagnosis through a live interactive video
- Transmission of still images
- e.g., your patient scans you a diagnostic test, or you submit diagnostic images, vital signs or video clips for later review
- Remote patient monitoring
- e.g., using home telehealth devices to collect and send data
- Patient portals
- e.g., communicating with patients through a secure and electronic portal to give them direct access to their data
- Yes – even email counts as telehealth!
- And more…
- The sharing of consumer medical and health information online, or remote medical education seminars, is also considered a part of telemedicine.
Reliance on telemedicine has grown significantly in recent years – many hospitals, home health agencies, and private physician offices now utilize it in everyday operations – and these technology tools can support practitioners in providing the highest quality, accessible care to their patients.1
4 Reasons You Need to Pay Attention Now
1. The technology is readily available and affordable
The technology required for seamless and impactful virtual consultations has finally matured as a result of faster Internet connections and improved software. Patients with a smart phone or internet access can now easily connect with their providers, attend consultations or engage with their electronic health records on a patient portal.2 Practitioners now also have access to the software to host these elements – a simple Google search uncovers a range of HIPAA-compliant, secure, easy to use telemedicine software solutions and many EMR and EHR companies provide a patient portal that support direct patient-provider electronic communication.3
2. Patients like the idea
The 72% of internet users looking online for medical advice online4 are seeing a range of companies offering virtual consultations – Doctors on Demand, HealthTap, American Well, Teladoc, and others – through webcam-enabled laptops, smartphones or tablets.
And while this may seem like it’s just for younger populations, older patients are not technology averse by any means. They are increasingly the ones seeking out virtual consultations and are generally most likely to benefit from it given they have the greatest mobility challenges in terms of getting to a doctor.
3. Telemedicine is MAINSTREAM
It’s not just a few avant-garde venture-capitalist-backed start-ups that are in this space. Major retail pharmacies have moved into the healthcare space, providing in-person routine healthcare services; they’re now investing very heavily in telehealth as well.
- Walgreens announced in early 2015 that it was expanding a telemedicine application, which enables patients to visit with doctors for minor ailments, to 25 states reaching an estimated 50% of the U.S. population.
- Not to be outdone, in August 2015, the CVS chain officially paired with telehealth services providers American Well, Doctor On Demand and Teladoc to expand access to its services beyond its drug stores and pharmacies. The announcement came after a successful pilot testing of the use of telehealth in its MinuteClinic in-store clinics.5
An ever-growing 15% of very large employers are implementing some telemedicine aspects, and a whopping additional 39% are considering building it in – that’s over 50% of the market already moving in this direction. Even Medicare and Medicaid have started to cover not-in-person consultations as reimbursement for telemedicine. And while some minor regulatory hurdles do remain to providing virtual prescriptions – 13 of 50 states allow doctors to prescribe without an in-person visit6 – these will likely change soon.
4. Telemedicine helps you reach and engage more patients
Over the years, telemedicine has facilitated the provision of healthcare services to patients in remote areas or with limited mobility, and eliminated travel time and associated stress factors for patients. It has always had the added benefit, from a practitioner viewpoint, of expanding the reach of their practices beyond that of their physical offices.
Even integrative practitioners are taking note – just look up Doctor Cav, Dr. Andrea Purcell, Integrative Medical Partners, A Healthy State of Mind – naturopathic practices that have started to offer telemedicine to any patients “from anywhere that there is a strong, high-speed Internet connection, a computer with speakers and a webcam.” Certain states that currently license and recognize Naturopathic Doctors as primary care physicians, like Arizona, have even passed legislation to allow naturopaths to practice using telemedicine.7
At the end of the day, practitioners in certain disciplines – naturopaths or traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) – will likely be better able to benefit from virtual consultations (compared to acupuncture and massage therapy and chiropractic practitioners) – but most will benefit from closer communication with their patients whether through electronic patient portals and by being available to their patients for questions through email or virtual conference software.
 Technically: “Telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status. Telemedicine is not a separate medical specialty. Products and services related to telemedicine are often part of a larger investment by healthcare institutions in either information technology or the delivery of clinical care. Even in the reimbursement fee structure, there is usually no distinction made between services provided on site and those provided through telemedicine and often no separate coding required for billing of remote services. Telemedicine is closely allied with the term health information technology (HIT). However, HIT more commonly refers to electronic medical records and related information systems while telemedicine refers to the actual delivery of remote clinical services using technology.”1
References and Additional Resources
- What is Telemedicine? American Telemedicine Association website http://www.americantelemed.org/about-telemedicine/what-is-telemedicine#.VsUhQvkrKM-. Updated 2012. Accessed February 17, 2016.
- Fleshman S. Why Telemedicine’s Time Has Finally Come. Forbes website. http://www.forbes.com/sites/zinamoukheiber/2015/01/13/why-telemedicines-time-has-finally-come/#31032f876ce0. Updated January 13, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2016.
- Why Use Telemedicine? Global Med website. http://www.globalmed.com/additional-resources/why-use-telemedicine.php. Accessed February 17, 2016.
- Health Fact Sheet. Pew Research Center website. http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/health-fact-sheet/. Updated 2015. Accessed November 19, 2015.
- Conn J. CVS taps three companies to expand telehealth services. Modern Healthcare website. http://www.modernhealthcare.com/article/20150826/NEWS/150829897. Updated August 26, 2015. Accessed February 17, 2016.
- Column: The doctor will see you now — on the Internet. USA Today website. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/01/13/doctor-medicine-internet-visit/1830743/. Updated January 13, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2015.
- AzNMA Scores Two Legislative Victories. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians website. http://www.naturopathic.org/article_content.asp?edition=101§ion=156&article=908. Updated April 29, 2014. Accessed February 29, 2016.