History of Telemedicine
What is Telemedicine
Telemedicine is the use of tools that allow patients to receive healthcare and improve engagement with telecommunication technologies. This technology makes it easier for people in rural and remote areas to receive treatment without traveling long distances. Physicians can easily communicate with their patients in real-time and relay important information for their well-being.
Telemedicine’s popularity has only been slowed by some physicians’ reluctance to adopt the practice in their healthcare systems. Nevertheless, the continuous development of technology ensures the improvement of this field in the coming years. Recently, there has been a massive adoption due to a new generation of technology-focused patients and the COVID-19 pandemic that forced people to stay at home.
Difference Between Telemedicine and Telehealth
Telehealth is a broader category that encompasses all aspects of healthcare, which includes nonclinical activities such as physical training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education (CME). Telemedicine only refers to remote clinical services such as diagnosis and treatment, while telehealth includes all the technologies that help make healthcare services better and improve delivery. So telemedicine is a category under telehealth services as it has a more significant scope.
How Telemedicine Works
Video Calls: This is the primary and most commonly-used telemedical medium between a physician and patient. It’s like a typical video call between friends. In most countries, HIPPA regulations ensure all video calls are through secure video conferencing software.
Telemedicine Kits: Portable telemedicine kits that use mobile medical devices and computers like vital-signs monitors and ECGs for telemedicine practice. Physicians use high-quality digital cameras to send detailed images to specialists who analyze them and give appropriate diagnosis and treatment strategies.
Telemedicine Software: Institutions can use specific telemedicine software that offers a range of services involving live video conferencing and data storage. This software is continuously updated to meet up with innovations and patient needs.
How to Improve Telemedicine
For telemedicine billing services to be effective, medical institutions have to collect proper information for better service delivery. The system design should be asking pertinent questions promptly, such as pregnancy status, weight, pre-existing conditions, etc. so that they can prescribe the right treatments. Telemedicine software should be infallible if the design protocols inputted by humans are valid.
One way to improve the efficiency of telemedicine and deliver results that are the same as one-on-one encounters is to reduce documentation time by putting unstructured data into electronic health records. Also, patients could be connected faster by employing a method that connects them to the closest available physician in their time of need – similar to the Uber system. This way, an available doctor makes a call to the patient, and the patient gets a consultation.
Why Telemedicine is Important
Technology now plays a vital role in healthcare, and there is increased integration in different aspects of our everyday lives, making it more relevant than ever. With a smartphone, it’s now easier to track and monitor medical cycles while receiving therapy and treatment from the comfort of your home. In cases of infectious diseases, it also reduces the possibility of transmission, thereby increasing safety.
The American Telemedicine Association states that telemedicine can handle over 70% of urgent medical illnesses, which leads to a quick and efficient diagnosis. Many people need constant medical care but don’t have access to quality services for geographical or financial reasons. In areas of the world where quality healthcare requires travel, telemedicine helps to bridge that gap and give access to those in need.
Telemedicine Pros and Cons
Top Telemedicine Medical Specialties
Some medical specialties easily adapted to telemedicine services and over the years, they have become more popular for use in telemedicine than others. They are:
Telenephrology: Nephrology practice is useful in inter-professional instances when a physician needs to consult a nephrologist about a patient’s kidney condition.
Telepsychiatry: Psychiatry does not usually require the same examination that other medical fields do. Along with a shortage of available psychiatrists, this has made telepsychiatry extremely popular.
Telerehabilitation: Rehabilitation services delivered remotely through telemedicine can give a lot of benefits to both physicians and patients.
Teleradiology: This is one of the earliest fields of telemedicine, and it allows providers to send the x-ray of a patient to a radiologist and get speedy consultation for the patient. Teleradiology is mainly used by small hospitals that don’t have an in-house radiologist round the clock.
Teledermatology: Teledermatology services work by sending a picture of a mole, rash, or other skin anomalies to a dermatologist for quick diagnosis and treatment options.
Teleoncology: Oncologists reach out to their patients through video platforms for consultations. Communication could also be through tools that allow you to forward images and get a diagnosis.
Teleophthalmology: Telemedicine allows ophthalmologists to examine a patient’s eyes and treat infections from a remote location.
Telepathology: Pathologists receive images and videos for diagnosis, research, and treatment of a patient, thereby removing the need for physical interaction.
Teleobstetrics: Obstetricians can provide prenatal care without the need for physical contact by exchanging information for accurate diagnosis.
What Services Can be Provided by Telemedicine
Medical institutions can provide several health services via telemedicine depending on the area of specialization. These services include patient management, expert consultation, diagnosis, follow-up visits, doctor prescriptions, post-operation care, and therapy.
Common conditions that these services can address include:
Types of Telemedicine
Telemedicine and Medicare
In the past, Medicare only reimbursed for some of the services provided through telemedicine under stringent conditions. With the telemedicine industry’s growth, Medicare now has an expanded list of telemedicine services they reimburse. A few details to take note of in telemedicine and Medicare are:
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Telemedicine and Medicaid
Medicaid programs depend on state laws, so they vary depending on where you are. Reimbursement policies also depend on your state. Irrespective of your current location, here are some factors that could affect your reimbursement through Medicaid:
Future of Telemedicine
Telemedicine Resource Centers
Barriers to Telemedicine
Who Pays for Telemedicine
Medicaid: Telemedicine is usually covered and the extent depends on the laws of the state.
Medicare: Covers only telemedicine consultations that are through video/audio.
Patients: Most telemedicine consultations are paid for by the patients directly. Some services charge a fee per visit and others work on a yearly or monthly-based subscription.
Private Payers: There is an increasing amount of private payers paying for telemedicine, and the state usually determines the restrictions.
HIPAA and Telemedicine
Broadband: Broadband is a communication system that can transmit different frequencies, usually as microwave, broadcast, or satellite television.
Encryption: Encoding data so only those with authorization can get access.
Clinical Information System: This is hospital-based information that has to do with patient care and not administrative data.
Video conferencing: This is the transmission of video images and audio over long distances.
Electronic health record: A collection of sensitive information about a patient’s health sent to other healthcare facilities for telemedical purposes.
Telemedicine can address challenges in healthcare delivery, lower costs, and improve convenience for all parties involved. Its importance is even more apparent with the prevalence of the COVID-19 pandemic where travel was restricted, leading to increased demand. In the coming years, this will undoubtedly bring about significant changes and improvements in the health sector.
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