Is Virtual Medicine Meeting America’s Expectations?

Telehealth is here, but are doctors ready for it and will it meet patients’ expectations? Virtual office visitsare but one part of the remote medical care known as telehealth.Initially known as telemedicine, the concept was first employed by NASA, using satellite technology, to monitor the health of the astronauts while they were in space. Since then, the use of remote technology for healthcare has skyrocketed, and currently, three quarters of the hospitals in the United States are using, or are implementing programs for, telehealth, according to the American Hospital Association.

Telehealth is not one specific entity, but a collection of technological resources that interact to paint a complete picture of your health.

  1. Live Videos, or “real-time” communications, are virtual visits between medical providers and patients. This service allows people who might have difficulty getting to the doctor’s office, such as those who are less mobile or those who live in rural areas, to still receive care.
  2. Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is accomplished by the patient collecting, uploading, and securely sending health data, such as blood sugar readings, food logs, home blood pressure readings, new medications, etc. to the medical office. This information is then presented to the physician for review, and advice is delivered electronically.
  3. Store-and-Forward technologies allow for digital pictures, documents, and pre-recorded videos to be saved on a device and then sent to the doctor by secure email.
  4. Mobile Health, or mHealth, is the coordination of services through mobile devices.

Patients can check test results, make appointments, receive reminders, order testing supplies, refillmedications, and even email their doctors directly. Remote communication can provide instructionson self-care, which can contribute to better patient outcomes.Primary Care Physicians and specialists can consult with each other through the digital sharing of medical data. Physical therapy can be managed at home with this technology, eliminating the need to travel to the PT facility and avoiding some of the expense of a real visit.

It's possible that your doctor is providing some, if not all, of these services. It’s great to be able to open your computer to get your lab results, but what about the videos, or virtual visits? Good communication is essential in any form of medical care and being connected to your doctor with a keystroke is a boon to patients, but providers must learn new methods of effectively communicating through a computer screen. Imagine a doctor that must deliver a diagnosis of terminal cancer to a patient. It’s hard enough imparting that kind of news in person, but how do you convey compassion from an image on a screen?

Telehealth is becoming more widely accepted across the United States, butmany doctors are resisting this transition to high tech medicine. In contrast to hospitals, which have 75% participation, a 2018 survey from Deloitte of US physicians and healthcare consumers shows that 80 % of consumers have tried, or would be willing to try, virtual care, whereas only 14% of doctors offer it in their practices. Another 18 % plan to implement it within the next two years.

In their defence, there are drawbacks to adopting telehealth programs. The lack of personal touch, as mentioned above, liability issues, confidentiality, and no access to broadband service can be deterrents. States have differing regulations, and private insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid are not consistent in their reimbursement orstandards.

Even if these issues are resolved, there is still something else preventing doctors from using telehealth in their practices: training. Good training is imperative for medical personnel to be able to navigate the virtual world of medicine in a safe and efficient manner while still providing excellent customer service,but it remains the biggest barrier toimplementation.Training requires an investment of time, personnel, finances, and auditingto which some medical practices do not wish to commit.

Despite the negatives, however, telehealth can save patients time, money, and hassles, and expand their access to Primary Care Physicians and specialists. It’s an innovative concept for a changing world.


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