Once upon a time, doctors made house calls. Eventually, the tables were turned, and patients were the ones visiting their providers. With advances in technology, we are approaching an era in which quality health care can be provided in the patient’s home – and nobody has to go anywhere.
The Benefits of Telemedicine
Thanks to emerging technology that is leading to the widespread adoption of telemedicine as a viable health care option, everything old is new again. More and more patients are being treated in the comfort of their own homes. Think of it as a virtual house call.
In order to eliminate barriers to quality care faced by many, especially the poor and those living in rural communities, an increasing number of health care systems are turning to telemedicine as a solution. Many facilities, such as Intermountain Health Systems in Salt Lake City and Penn Medicine’s Center for Connected Care, are utilizing “hub and spoke” business models to reach remote patients. The concept is simple: an anchor hospital (the “hub”) offers a full array of services, while secondary clinics (“spokes”) provide a more limited range. It’s an ideal setup for patients in rural communities, who can take advantage of routine care without having to deal with the hassle and expense of travel. Doctors and nurses are able to utilize audio and video to diagnose and treat patients with low-acuity conditions. Additionally, the system works well for patients confined to ICUs who require round-the-clock monitoring and specialized care.
Once the domain of science fiction, telemedicine has become a workable reality thanks to the advent of technological processes and systems. The switch from paper to electronic health records has been instrumental in paving the way for virtual care, as has the proliferation of Wi-Fi, 4G and 5G networks, and more powerful computing systems, all of which offer faster high-resolution video connections far more reliable than anything available in the past.
Telemedicine expands access to health care, improves diagnoses, reduces costs, and leads to better overall outcomes.
There will always be instances in which patients need to meet face-to-face with their physicians. But telemedicine is an excellent alternative in many scenarios, including:
- Follow-up results to diagnostic tests
- Counseling sessions and psychotherapy
- Specialist care in rural communities that are otherwise underserved
- Post-pregnancy (and other high-risk conditions) monitoring of vital signs
- Sleep studies
Despite a few obstacles – reimbursement policies that have yet to catch up to virtual care models and potential ethical questions – it’s apparent that telemedicine is here to stay.