The Ultimate Telehealth Guides (2021)
There are many benefits of telemedicine, also know as telehealth, to both patient and provider. Telemedicine allows patients who previously may have had limited access to health care services to have access right from their home.
What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a way to receive healthcare services remotely from anywhere at any time. Technological advancements have allowed for doctors to consult with patients using secure video software, online patient portals, and downloadable applications managed by companies that offer telemedicine services. With telemedicine, you are able to discuss in real-time with a doctor your medical conditions, symptoms, medication. The doctor is then able to come up with a treatment plan and prescribe medications when necessary. With telemedicine, you can receive medical care anytime and anywhere from the comfort of your home, school, or work.
The three most common forms of telemedicine are:
- Interactive Medicine: this allows the patient and provider to consult in real-time.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: with this providers are able to monitor patients that have medical conditions that can be monitored with home testing devices (eg, blood pressure and blood sugar).
- Store and Forward: patient information can be shared electronically from provider to provider.
How does Telemedicine Work?
Telemedicine is not meant to replace your primary care physician or for emergency situations. Any condition that is urgent and requires hands-on attention (heart attack, Xrays, broken bones, etc) will need to be handled in person. Telemedicine is meant for non-urgent health conditions that you would traditionally go to your doctor or an urgent care clinic to be treated. For example, you think you might have pink eye, you are able to set up a virtual visit with your doctor where they can go over your symptoms and come up with a treatment plan all without having to leave the house.
Benefits of Telemedicine
There are many benefits of telemedicine to both patient and provider. Telemedicine allows patients who previously may have had limited access to health care services to have access right from their home. Providers may benefit from increased revenue as they are able to see more patients without needing to hire additional staff.
Ways Telemedicine may benefit you:
- Telemedicine visits are typically less expensive than an office visit, trip to the ER or urgent care.
- Limited access to health care due to living remotely, traveling for school/work.
- Save on gas money and avoid wasting time in traffic.
- Those who struggle with childcare or eldercare can consult with a doctor from the comfort of their home.
- Telemedicine helps reduce the spread of contagious diseases. For example, you no longer will need to subject yourself to an office waiting room full of sick people and risk getting sick yourself.
Drawbacks of Telemedicine
One of the main disadvantages of telemedicine is losing the face to face contact for patients and providers. Without in-person contact there is room for error and mismanagement of some medical conditions. Patients may have a concern for the privacy of their sensitive health information. Many telemedicine organizations offer their services with HIPAA compliant software to ensure patient information is confidential. Telemedicine also has many drawbacks for providers and payers in regard to reimbursement, expense of technology, security concerns and physician licensing.
Telemedicine vs. Telehealth
These terms are often used interchangeably, but there is a definite difference between the two.
Telemedicine is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “healing from a distance.” This permits patients to receive healthcare treatment without having to physically go into a doctor's office.
Telehealth is defined by HealthIT.gov as “the utilization of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health education, public health and health administration.” Telehealth encompasses telemedicine as well as non-clinical events like healthcare professionals training, education, and appointment scheduling. Telehealth is not a service, but a way to make advancements in patient care and healthcare education.
Applications of telemedicine
Telemedicine has many valuable applications, below you will see the most common uses of telemedicine today.
- Chronic disease and medication management: physicians are now able to monitor various medical conditions with the use of high-tech medical devices. This allows patients to check their blood pressure, blood sugar and more from home while the data transfers electronically to the provider. With this technology, the provider will also be able to tell if and when a patient has taken their medication.
- Sharing medical information: being able to share a patient's medical information is critical for providers. It allows the patient’s entire care team to be on the same page if they are able to share all the same medical information.
- ER deflection and Ambulance routing: Emergency rooms can easily be overcrowded with long wait times to be seen. Telemedicine allows patients to see a provider remotely to determine whether or not emergency care is appropriate for them and if not can direct them appropriately. Telemedicine also benefits paramedics, it allows them to see each local hospital's capacity to know the best place to take the patient.
- Disaster relief: When a disaster strikes it can be difficult to have enough healthcare professionals to address both urgent and nonurgent care. Telemedicine helps to cover that gap and many issues can be addressed virtually.
- Remote Clinics: There are many remote areas in this country with limited access to medical care. With telemedicine, a patient living in a remote area could utilize telemedicine to gain access to the care they need.
Most common medical specialties using telemedicine
- General Medicine/Urgent Care: Many minor medical conditions that patients would typically go to their primary care physician or urgent care could be treated via telemedicine. Follow-up appointments for chronic disease management can also be done virtually and reduce patients visits to the office.
- Pediatric Medicine: Parents are now able to avoid bringing their sick child in to see a doctor with telemedicine. A telemedicine visit is a good way to put a parent's mind at ease. It can be hard to know when to bring your child into the doctor when they are sick, telemedicine is a great solution giving the pediatrician the opportunity to educate the parents on the next steps for treatment.
- Mental Health: Mental health is one of the most common specialties to utilize telemedicine. It is one specialty that really does not require a physical exam to treat a patient. Telemedicine makes it easy for patients and therapists to connect without having to leave home.
- Dermatology: With telemedicine, dermatologists are able to diagnose many common skin conditions. Through the use of high-quality photos and videos, a dermatologist is able to efficiently come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan.
Telehealth regulations and privacy laws
There are many legalities that go along with the world of telemedicine and each state has different rules and regulations that they must follow. One of the main laws is the medical world is HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). This law serves to protect the privacy of your medical information. HIPAA encompasses many rules and regulations that give direction on the administration and enforcement of the law. The two main rules are the privacy and security rule. And just as they sound they protect the privacy of patient medical information and make sure this information is secure. The second law is a BAA (Business Association Agreement). Every healthcare organization is required through HIPAA to maintain a BAA with its technology company. Most healthcare systems utilize a third party technology group to store medical information. HIPAA does not apply to telemedicine, it is up to the providers to make sure they are being compliant with HIPAA laws. Telemedicine companies that need to utilize a third party to store their data should have a signed BAA. If they do not have a signed BAA they are confident in their ability to keep protected health information secure.
Telehealth is a new and rapidly changing idea that requires many regulations in regard to physician practice and reimbursement. There are parity laws in place that require private insurance companies to reimburse televisits the same way they would for an in-office visit. These laws can vary state by state, currently, 33 of the states comply with parity laws. Along with parity laws, many states also require patient consent for telemedicine visits. Providers can go unpaid if they fail to receive patient consent for treatment. Lastly, there are regulations on medical licensing for physicians by state. Many providers are only licensed to practice in one state. Interstate medical licensing would allow for a provider to practice across state borders. There are currently only a few states that allow interstate medical licensing.
The Future of Telehealth
The future of telehealth is exciting and promising. With more organizations and providers offering telemedicine and more patients in favor of utilizing telemedicine this form of medicine will continue to grow over time. In the future telemedicine could include international collaboration. If telemedicine could one day cross international borders than those countries that are more medically advanced could help breakdown medical barriers. Hopefully, the future of telehealth will include health system collaboration. Currently, it is difficult for two different health systems with different EMR (electronic medical records) systems to share electronic medical records information. Perhaps the future in telemedicine will allow for easier sharing of patient medical records which will allow providers to have a bigger picture of their patient’s medical history. All in all the future of telehealth is bright and it will be exciting to watch as it evolves over time.