Telehealth, or using electronic communications to administer healthcare, is on the rise.
While policies vary and telehealth is still being defined in many states, it’s becoming clear that communicating and diagnosing electronically can be useful to physicians and patients. This will have an inevitable impact on employees in technology fields within the healthcare industry, so it’s good to keep up to date on where telehealth is and where it’s going.
What is telehealth?
Essentially, a patient would engage in telehealth (also called telemedicine) by communicating with a physician without a direct face-to-face interaction.
The label of telehealth includes:
- Synchronous communication with tools like live video chat
- Store-and-forward communications, where doctors store images or communications and send them on to other physicians, so the response usually isn’t instantaneous
- Remote patient monitoring, where patients can electronically input their ongoing experiences. This is effective for patients suffering from chronic conditions, or those who were recently released from the hospital after a procedure.
Why is telehealth beneficial?
Telehealth has been particularly promising in rural areas, where access to specialists and other physicians is relatively scarce.
Telemedicine has also proven effective in reducing readmissions in certain cases. Essentia Health, for example, saw success in using telemedicine technology with patients suffering from congestive heart failure. The average readmission rate within 30 days at Essentia was less than 2% for this group of people, while the national average is 25%.
By reducing cost-draining things like hospital readmissions, telehealth has the potential to lower healthcare bills—a top priority for most healthcare providers. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs reported saving more than $18,000 per year from 2005-2013 as a result of telemedicine initiatives at the organization’s Vermont location.
The rising aging population—and the health conditions that go along with it—is also a driver in the push for telemedicine options.
If you’re in the healthcare industry, particularly in Health Information Technology, it’s important to recognize these drivers and benefits.
What’s holding telehealth back?
Medicare has been slow to reimburse telemedicine services, but will compensate certain cases in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) or in places outside of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA). There is currently a proposed bill that would eliminate several Medicare telehealth obstacles, as well.
Besides reimbursement regulations, there are other concerns. Doctors working across state lines is one; they could be providing medical guidance in states where they aren’t licensed. Lower broadband connections in rural healthcare facilities is another important factor, especially because the gap in connection is reportedly growing.
As telemedicine options expand and new legislation is introduced, these issues and more will need to be addressed.
The national conversation is revving up around telemedicine and how it should be implemented going forward. Here’s some great additional reading to keep you in the loop on this industry change:
- PCAST touts telehealth, wearable sensors as key to keeping aging population connected via Healthcare IT News
- Florida Passes New Telehealth Bill: Focus Is Reimbursement via Health Care Law Today
- Widespread Adoption Of Telehealth Could Save $6 Billion A Year via Health IT Outcomes
- Telehealth news via Rural Health Information Hub
- The American Telemedicine Association
- Telehealth program information via the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services