Telemedicine connects patients with providers regardless of location. Using a variety of devices, healthcare providers can assess, diagnose, and treat patients across the nation.
The use of telemedicine is expected to grow up to 30 percent in less than a decade. Despite its seemingly impersonal nature, the popularity of telemedicine (otherwise known as telehealth) continues to increase. It offers numerous benefits, making it an exciting new approach in the future of medicine.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is the use of technological means to provide healthcare services. Providers who offer telehealth options may communicate remotely with patients via phone, video conference, email, or other digital tools.
Currently, there are two main forms of telemedicine. These include:
- Real-Time Services: This includes use of videoconference or phone to assess, diagnose, and treat patients on the spot.
- Store and Forward Services: This includes the collection of data (such as MRIs and lab results) for future assessment by a healthcare professional.
What Are the Benefits?
In short, nearly any patient and healthcare organization can benefit from these services. The benefits include:
- Rural Access: With telemedicine, physicians are able to interact remotely with individuals who may live in rural settings. Telehealth also expands access to other underserved groups such as elderly or disabled individuals.
- Increased Access to Specialists: Telemedicine bridges the gap when a physician or a patient needs to consult with a specialist. Regardless of location, individuals can connect with leading experts.
- Cost Savings: Often, telehealth services cost less than a traditional office visit. This cost savings is beneficial to patients and to businesses that are self-insured. Providers no longer need to staff specialists, which can also help reduce costs. Furthermore, follow-up care with telehealth can help reduce hospital readmission for individuals on Medicaid and Medicare, which can result in billions of dollars in savings every year.
- Patient Convenience: Busy families that balance work and home responsibilities will enjoy the ease and convenience of telemedicine. Younger generations that grew up with technology will also add to the increasing demand for telemedicine services. Additionally, patients can be seen within a shorter time frame when they choose telehealth options. This can lead to high patient satisfaction ratings, which can be a benefit to the provider.
- Better Patient Outcomes: With ease of access, physicians will be better able to track patients over time. As a result, patients will experience better health outcomes.
All of these benefits will lead to an improvement in the healthcare system as a whole. As the technology expands, services will become more streamlined, resulting in a better healthcare environment for patients, providers, and insurers.
The Future of Telemedicine
As telemedicine continues to grow in popularity, providers must address a number of questions about the current system. Despite the numerous benefits, some problems remain unresolved. These potential issues include:
- Licensing Requirements: Because of the remote nature of telemedicine, there may be future regulations regarding the licensing of physicians to treat patients in other states.
- Defining Face-To-Face Visits: Third party payers may require a face-to-face visit for certain conditions to apply (such as qualification for home health care). Whether telemedicine qualifies as a face-to-face visit currently remains largely unresolved.
- Patient Privacy: As more individuals use telemedicine services, it may be difficult for providers to ensure patient privacy.
- Defining the Scope of Telemedicine: Currently, telemedicine services are not defined by a single standardized classification.
- Reimbursement Questions: The rate of reimbursement for telemedicine services is not well defined. Insurers may be reluctant to reimburse providers at the same rate as an office visit.
Despite these unresolved questions, telemedicine is still slated to grow at a rapid pace. Undoubtedly, these concerns will be resolved as the demand for its services increases over time.
Just like telemedicine, Locum Tenens can provide healthcare organizations and physicians with numerous benefits. Providers can enjoy uninterrupted patient care services and physicians can gain experience in a variety of fields across the United States. If you are a healthcare organization or a medical professional that is considering Locum Tenens work, please feel free to contact the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations or a NALTO member today.