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Telemedicine – Benefits and Challenges

Telemedicine – Benefits and Challenges
04 September 2019

In an article we published recently, we talked about what telemedicine and telehealth are and how they can benefit both the care provider and the patient. To illustrate our point, we used an episode of House M.D.; where Dr. House and his team, with only a webcam, treated someone who was injured and needed immediate medical assistance, but was unable to get it in the conventional manner, due to being stranded in the middle of the Antarctic.

This is in line with the manner that telehealth has been promoted for, for years. But by constantly hammering home that telemedicine benefits you when your patients are remotely located, other benefits of telehealth are being ignored. 

For instance, our blueEHR platform is built to be interoperable with other EHR systems and health related technology. blueEHR has the ability to exchange data with external systems without losing any data integrity or putting the data at the risk of being exposed or compromised. So let’s say you have a complicated case, where you need the feedback or unique expertise of someone who is far away and only available over webcam; Your practice could securely exchange the pertinent patient data directly to the specialist and then have an integrated care team meeting over webcam. Not only does this allow for immediate and worry free communication, it also allows for the incorporation of specialists into practices that might not have access to them otherwise, improving patient health outcomes

Telehealth is also beneficial if you want to add a secondary service to your medical group. For instance, like we mentioned in the previous article, Curavi health, a subsidiary of UPMC, is doing just that. They are providing telehealth solutions to over a 100 skilled nursing facilities and that has reduced readmission rates.

[Learn More: Learn how a telehealth company added 200 skilled nursing facilities under 30 days]

Telehealth is not just helping patients, it’s also highly beneficial for the healthcare providers. By communicating through telehealth, neither the care provider nor patient have to be bothered to waste time by traveling. For the patient, they get access to the healthcare they need, but with decreased costs. For the provider, the ability, provided by telehealth, to quickly and easily see multiple patients a day, would lead to increased revenue. The use of telehealth in medical practices is spreading faster than expected and it is largely due to the support of the American College of Physicians (ACP), who have, for years, been advising doctors to connect with patients remotely.

The position of ACP for telemedicine includes cautions, challenges and benefits for primary care doctors. If your medical group is thinking of reaching patients through this new technology, the following points are recommended for a better understanding:(( “Internists Emphasize Importance of Balancing Benefits of ….Accessed August 7, 2019.))

  • Make sure the liability insurance covers telemedicine
  • Start with established patients
  • Offer the same standard of care as in personal encounters

Some of the challenges of telemedicine are:

  • Difficulties in obtaining HIPAA compliant system in place
  • Challenges about how insurance will pay for telemedicine
  • Lack of definition of telemedicine

It should not be blindly adopted because it seems great. As the ACP puts it, “ACP believes that physicians should use their professional judgement about whether the use of telemedicine is appropriate for a patient. Physicians should not compromise their ethical obligation to deliver clinically appropriate care for the sake of new technology adoption.”

Telemedicine ensures greater patient convenience and interaction. For example, instead of having the patient come in for medication refill prescriptions, it can be done quickly and easily over a telehealth system. This allows for more patients to be seen, whether it be over telemedicine or in person. 

There are many more benefits; enough to write articles and blog posts and think pieces for several weeks. Telehealth, as a concept, is one of the most popular ideas in medicine today. According to The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), “telemedicine offers a great deal of promise in its ability to provide medical services to populations unable to obtain them.”(( “Meet an Informaticist – Telemedicine – A Patient’s Perspective | HIMSSAccessed August 7, 2019.)) This means that people facing barriers to healthcare access, would be able to get care with telehealth. Other potential advantages of telemedicine include monitoring prescription compliance, management of chronic conditions and asynchronous communication (ex: specialists can verify images or lab results over the phone, which only requires the patient and the doctor to be present at a specific time).

As we mentioned above, there are still challenges present in adopting telehealth widely. Some of these challenges seem tough and that is because they are. Insurances are still not widely accepting of telehealth and that is frustrating. If insurance does not reimburse care providers and it does not cover patient costs, then telehealth becomes unusable. As for insurance, unfortunately, there is no way to change the system without constant pressure put on the decision makers and keeping the topic of telehealth in the minds of those involved in the healthcare ecosystem. As of right now, 26 of the 50 states require private insurers to reimburse telehealth. 10 more are considering implementing this idea((“Will My Insurance Cover Telemedicine? – Chiron Health.Accessed August 7, 2019))

In the same vein, having multiple licenses across the different states is frustrating. In the United States alone, that is 50 different licenses to obtain. If you are an international care provision brand or if you have a provider who needs to consult with a specialist who is overseas, then you have even more to be frustrated about. 

This is where the importance of a good telehealth supported EHR system becomes clear. For instance, blueEHR provides telehealth capability. The telehealth solution offered by blueEHR is HIPAA compliant. A US HIPAA compliant solution is usually the standards followed by most nations around the world. 

The challenges might seem like they outweigh the benefits and maybe they do, at the start. But if you take a step back and look at it, you can see that if you get over the initial hurdle, the benefits are worth it.