Monday, 08 September 2014 00:00

Telemedicine and its Role in the Health Care Industry

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Telemedicine is one of the newest and upcoming industries in the health care market. Currently, there’s a sparking interest in telemedicine that is rooted on a projected demand in home health care.  By 2018, aging baby boomers will have an increased need for health care services, both in and out of the home.  Today, more than half of all U.S. hospitals are using some form of telemedicine, according to the American Telemedicine Association, the leading international resource and advocate promoting the use of advanced medical technologies.

Telemedicine is also one of the fastest growing areas of technology within the health care industry.  Referred to as telemedicine, mHealth and telehealth, those who are likely to gain financially from telemedicine will be IT providers, enterprise software developers, wireless data providers, affiliated hospitals, home health software agencies, home health agencies and home health clinicians.   

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine is medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications in order to document, assess and monitor a patient’s clinical health status. It includes a growing variety of applications and services including two-way video, email, smart phones, wireless tools and other forms of telecommunications technologies.1 Telemedicine allows for doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to visually see, monitor and treat patients in their homes from their office. With a laptop and Internet access, medical providers can connect with patients anywhere.

These new capabilities are currently playing a major role in the advancement of technology in home health care. Physicians now have the capability to care for numerous patients at once, without having to physically be present, and as a result, patients are being provided with a better quality of care.  One of the most popular methods for delivering telemedicine services includes PC-based webcams.

Remote health care

Telemedicine is working in a number of ways that are highly beneficial to the health care system. Prior to telemedicine, patients had limited ability to interact with physicians. Now with remote monitoring, patients can be monitored in their homes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  This becomes a more cost effective method of care.   

Telemedicine is also working in the manner of reducing medical errors by providing a real-time monitoring system and allowing physicians to interact one-on-one, at any given time, with their patients.

Key players

According to the American Telemedicine Association, there are currently three ‘ones to watch’  players in the telemedicine industry. These three key players are; Mercy, Oracle Corporation and Tuckson Health Connections.

Mercy Telehealth Services – has more than five years’ experience in the telehealth industry and is the largest telehealth provider in the United States. Their believe is that quality care should not depend upon one’s zip code and through their relationships is able to extend their services to people of all communities wherever and whenever needed.2

Oracle Corporation – has been the leader in database software for more than 35 years and is shifting the complexity from IT and moving it out of the enterprise by engineering hardware and software that work together.3  Recently, Oracle launched TECBRA Telehealth Solutions which allows users to share, manage and store complex imaging.

Tuckson Health Connections – is operated by Dr. Reed Tuckson, currently the Chief of Medical Affairs for United Health and formerly the Senior Vice President of the American Medical Association.  Dr. Tuckson is an advocate of telemedicine and its potential for improving quality of life. The company is focused on developing best health behaviors and sharing innovations.   

Gaining Ground

Geographically, the largest concern faced by telemedicine technology is a Medicare mandate that requires telehealth services to be provided outside of a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). Subsequently, this mandate will not allow telemedicine practitioners to accomplish their goal of providing top quality healthcare to patients in all areas of the country.

In August, it was announced that four major wireless carriers in the U.S support ‘Text to 9-1-1,’ a program supported by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that promotes calling and texting to 9-1-1 for emergencies. Already two states, Vermont and Maine, accept text messages at emergency centers state wide. 

However, there’s more that needs to be done.  The American Telemedicine Association recently  recommended six ‘fixes’ to the Obama administration for improving health care delivery through the use of telemedicine. These six suggestions are as follows:

  1. Mandate telehealth as a covered service under federal health benefit plans.
  2. Clarify that Medicare “Physician Services” include proven telehealth services.
  3. Improve the process for CMS to add telehealth services under Medicare.
  4. Pilot telehealth service and payment models for Medicare and Medicaid patients.
  5. Support telehealth projects in the administration’s budget proposals.
  6. Increase federal coordination and impact on telemedicine.4

Future developments

The future looks bright for more developments in telemedicine -- many are currently the hottest new topics in healthcare IT.  It is projected that telemedicine will rule the health care industry and means of treating patients will become more easily accessible by all health care professionals.

Pilot programs, like The Medical Memory Video, are proving all types of telemedicine are beneficial.  In this program, patients at a neurological practice were given the option to video record pre-surgical consultations and follow ups in order to help patients remember what was said during visits. The consultations were recorded and uploaded to a secure website so afterwards patients could view at home. Over 90% of patients reported watching the video at least once and said the video was helpful.

Most recently, the Center for Information Technology Leadership has estimated that the telehealth industry could result in $4.28 billion annual savings for the United States health care system – if widely adopted. This annual savings could be highly beneficial to the health care market as it is in much need of financial relief.

Specific future developments in telemedicine include:

  • Introduction of telehealth capabilities by leading electronic health record agencies.
  • An increase in consumer demand for telehealth services.
  • Potential for government increase in funding for telemedicine.
  • Reduction in healthcare expenses and a lower cost for medical services. 

1http://www.americantelemed.org/about-telemedicine/what-is-telemedicine#.VAXDa2OOopk

http://mercytelehealth.com/about/

3  http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/oracle-fact-sheet-079219.pdf

4  http://www.americantelemed.org/docs/default-source/policy/six-immediate-actions-for-president-obamas-administration-for-telehealth.pdf?sfvrsn=16

Read 1479 times Last modified on Monday, 08 September 2014 17:19

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