The New England Journal of Medicine defines telehealth as remote medical care where necessary medical information and care is communicated electronically to reach a patient that is out of reach geographically from the source of the medical advice. The terms telehealth and telemedicine are used interchangeably. This new treatment method appears to be here to stay based on the statistics of rising usage. Better access to healthcare is always a priority as telemedicine evolves. As published in the New England Journal of Medicine, The Department of Health and Human Services reports that over 60 percent of US health care organizations utilize telehealth methods.
Live video is often used for patient and caregiver interactions in real-time. In emergency cases, telemedicine has saved lives. Video serves as a way to consult with patients who are in areas of the world where medical care is otherwise unavailable. In addition to consultative services, diagnostic and treatment services can also be offered to patients.
In addition to treatment and care by primary care physicians, medical records are also transmitted via secure electronic means. This allows patients the ability to access care from specialists, sending them the records they need so they can make medical decisions in the patient’s best interest. Considering how difficult it is to find specialists in certain locales, the ability to communicate electronically using x-rays and photos improves a patient’s chances of getting the care they need.
Another useful application for telemedicine is remote patient monitoring. Tracking healthcare data for patients already released from care or living remotely can lessen the probability of being readmitted. Telemedicine offers many solutions for working with patients and increasing healthcare options.
Education is another way that electronic communication is serving the community. All types of communication devices are used to spread the word about important health issues like disease outbreaks and to encourage healthy new practices. Cell phones, tablets and computers are all used for telemedicine messaging.
A wide range of health services are available via telemedicine. They aren’t restricted to standard medical procedures. Dentistry, disaster management, counseling and consumer education are all fields currently using telemedicine.
There are complicated legal issues exacerbated by the delivery of health care services across state lines due to conflicting state licensure compliance requirements. To address these problems, the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact was created to simplify and promote multistate licensing. Progress is being made in an effort to get more states on board with the effort. At present, 21 states have passed the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) into law. More states are expected to follow as federal funds are being allocated by the Health Resources and Services Administration for that purpose.
While a physician’s responsibilities to a patient remain unchanged in this new medical environment where technology shortens the distance between patients and physicians using electronics, there are obvious challenges and concerns about how the patient and physician relationship will evolve. One of the main challenges faced by this new type of medicine relates to patient engagement and the physician’s duty to inform patients about the limits of technology and to be sure and inform their primary care physician about using telemedicine. Teaching the patient about how best to use health apps is an important new responsibility that physicians must consider.
Better access to healthcare for everyone worldwide has always been a goal of the World Health Organization (WHO). The Cisco blog quoted Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, The Director of the WHO, “no one should get sick and die because they are poor, or because they can’t access the health services they need.” With this worthy goal in mind, telemedicine is making great strides to reach out and serve rural communities all over the world. According to the New England Journal of Medicine The National Business Group on Health predicts that by 2020, all large employers will cover telemedicine services.