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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Telemedicine has many valuable applications, below you will see the most common uses of telemedicine today.
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 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.