How Telemedicine Is Changing Healthcare
The global health crisis of the last two years has pushed healthcare providers to look for creative ways to continue caring for a large number of sick patients while easing workloads and preventing unnecessary exposure whenever possible. One of the positive developments was the increased exploration of and acceptance of telemedicine options for routine appointments and follow-ups.
While telemedicine had previously been progressing at a slow pace – slowed by the belief that patients really preferred in-person appointments in all cases – the outbreak of COVID pressed the fast-forward button and proved how many appointments truly could be conducted remotely when necessary. Now, as the healthcare industry adjusts to some semblance of a “new normal,” telemedicine is here to stay and promises to open even more possibilities in the near and distant future.
What is Telemedicine?
In an effort to reduce traffic to providers’ offices, telehealth offers virtual appointments, meaning a provider interacts with a patient via a video call or even a phone call to conduct a remote consultation, allowing the patient to remain in his or her own home.
During the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, providers were using a wide range of platforms to connect to patients; today many apps have emerged to offer more consistent and secure interactions, and many provider offices are integrating virtual care appointments into their routine services, including primary care.
What Services are Provided Through Telehealth Visits
While some conditions and examinations cannot be replaced by a remote consultation, telemedicine can meet the needs of several other conditions or incidents. Patients may need to provide some of the required vitals, such as weight, blood sugar, and blood pressure. In some cases, a community paramedic may be involved to help with visits and monitoring of vitals.
Other services that fit well into the telemedicine model include:
- Mental healthcare
- Lab tests or X-Ray results
- Skin conditions
- Prescription management
- Monitoring of chronic conditions
Benefits of Telemedicine & Telehealth Visits
Beyond patient and provider safety, telemedicine provides benefits to the healthcare industry as a whole. Among the top benefits is convenience, as more and more patients are becoming comfortable with online meetings and interactions. This also allows providers to see more patients in a day than in the in-person model. While most offices are employing a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual, telehealth is definitely gaining popularity. Other benefits include:
- Lower Cost: Telehealth visits are much more cost effective for both patients and healthcare providers. From needing fewer staff to facilitate to less out-of-pocket expenses, telehealth offers financial benefits.
- Convenient: Telehealth calls are extremely flexible and convenient, as a patient can participate from his or her own home, and providers can interact from their practice or even home office (or anywhere with appropriate privacy).
- National Coverage: Telehealth can be especially helpful for patients living in rural areas, or far from specialty practices. Older patients or those with transportation limitations similarly can benefit from being able to be “seen” from their own home.
- Control of Infectious Viruses: One of the initial drivers of telemedicine in the last two years continue to be a valuable benefit to both patients and staff. With fewer people crowding offices, the chance to spread infectious diseases is reduced.
How Else Is Telemedicine Impacting the Industry?
Telemedicine is making advancements every single day and promise to make a large impact on the future of healthcare. The main goal of telemedicine is to provide high-quality healthcare at a low cost to those who do not have access to it in the United States.
The availability of telehealth visits can help improve patient health, free up space in the emergency department, and help provide real-time healthcare solutions in a shorter amount of time. While the U.S. government is still working to define how HIPAA compliance will work with telemedicine technology, telehealth naturally promotes privacy as a patient interacts with a provider from his or her own home.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are telehealth visits different from traditional provider visits?
Telehealth appointments typically do not differ significantly from a traditional appointment, other than the fact that you are at your home, and the provider is communicating with you via video call.
Additionally, you may need to provide certain vitals to the provider (blood pressure, blood sugar, weight, etc.), but advancements in in-home monitoring devices are making this simpler and more accurate than ever. Some offices may use a community paramedic to help with monitoring and vitals.
Is the quality of care the same for telehealth services?
Just like many working Americans, healthcare providers have learned much over the last two years about interacting via video calls. Medical professionals try their best to ensure quality of care is the same for both in person and telehealth visits. However, some exams will always require an in-person visit.
Are telehealth visits covered by health insurance?
Most health insurance policies, including Medicare and Medicaid, will cover telemedicine visits as long as the provider is in network. To find a telehealth provider, patients should talk to their provider about options, or contact their insurance company directly via their website, app, or phone number to learn about options.
Additionally, some health centers provide services regardless of patients’ ability to pay and services are charged on a sliding fee scale. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers an online tool to find health centers that offer telehealth appointments.
Is my patient data secure during a telemedicine visit?
Providers are still required to adhere to HIPAA protocols during telemedicine visits. Many guidelines are in place for providers with recommendations on which technology is most secure and best practices to ensure privacy in a non-traditional setting.
The Future of Telehealth for Healthcare
For more insight into how COVID has changed healthcare, along with other anticipated challenges for the year ahead and best practices to address them, download the the 2022 EMS and Hospital Predictions.