Being part of the telemedicine evolution over the last six years has been an exciting component of medical practice. Several decades ago, I witnessed a pilot project connecting rural hospitals to tertiary centers. This facet of practice is the new norm, and patients expect the same level of service as in larger health systems.
A friend and colleague supervises a massive telemedicine service across 100 hospitals and ten states – and growing. Based on current data, the telemedicine ball is just beginning to roll. The evolution is exciting and has evolved even over the last 12 months. The following are a few examples.
Beyond Sniffles – Chronic Disease
New CMS rules promise to promote and incentivize telehealth further. At least that’s what the headlines tell us. The explosion of wearable technology, phone apps, and the savvy patient or family member will change the face of chronic disease.
The future of medicine will be proactive in detecting subtle changes and preventing diseases altogether. The platform of telemedicine makes all this possible.
Imagine a doctor monitoring BP and glucose remotely through a wearable device. He receives an alert due to a trend of elevated BP and glucose and intervenes before a patient falls down the slippery slope of diabetes and kidney disease. The ability to keep the proverbial horse in the barn has the potential to save billions of dollars and more importantly, countless lives.
Getting access to a mental health provider is as likely as winning the lotto in some geographic locales. The addition of psychiatric services is a much-needed aspect of telemedicine, and several prominent leaders have embraced this concept.
In the future, look for expanded access and more readily available appointments for mental health care. Hopefully, the days of waiting weeks or months to see a practitioner will be gone.
Emergency departments frequently are backed up awaiting consults for psychiatric patients. Telemedicine can solve this roadblock.
More Than Video
While in-person visits have been the standard for centuries, a tide of change has already washed over the general public’s perception of medical care.
Let’s be realistic. Do all complaints require an in-person visit with its attendant dead time trapped in the waiting room?
Many common ailments are remedied by a phone call. Put aside the legal concerns for a moment and focus on patient care and convenience, combined with a medical expert on the other end carefully listening for clues suggesting that a traditional appointment is necessary. Bug bites, runny noses, ear pain, and the common cold do not require a $200 office visit.
Integration with Tradition
As telemedicine rolls across the landscape, numerous institutions have integrated telemedicine with traditional medicine. Patients are given a choice of what type of appointment they desire. While some prefer a face-to-face intimate encounter, other patients place a premium on time and elect for a short phone or video encounter to follow up on medication changes, monitor for side effects, or adjust a care plan for ongoing back pain.
Patients are much more inquisitive and utilize the Internet to do their homework. Let’s give them credit for their efforts. With the power of video consultations, patients can demonstrate ROM for joint problems, show practitioners home readings for common metrics, upload wearable data, and partner to create a more robust treatment protocol.
Specialists already participate in advanced care such as telestroke emergency department consultations, dermatology consults, and orthopedic opinions. This will only expand as providers, patients, and administrators alike realize the real potential of telemedicine.
In the age of exponential change, the scope of telemedicine will quickly grow and innovate, and entrepreneurial health care workers will undoubtedly find more novel ways to harness telemedicine.