Telemedicine is the term used to describe when healthcare professionals use medical information transmitted via electronic communications technology, computer networks and multimedia to facilitate patient care. It has traditionally been used to provide medical care to individuals living in remote areas. In recent years, telemedicine has expanded in scope and is more widely integrated into daily operations in hospitals, clinics, surgery centers and physicians’ offices.
Here are just a few of the services that can be provided by telemedicine:
Remote patient monitoring – Rather than requiring a visit to the doctor’s office for vital sign monitoring, home telehealth allows patients to remain at home. It uses a variety of devices to measure and collect patient data, such as blood pressure, heart rate or blood glucose level, and these devices send it to a testing facility for interpretation.
Remote examinations – Patients can be visually examined with cameras, which is ideal for follow-up visits, dermatology exams and more.
Education – Consumers are already utilizing the Internet through their home computers and wireless devices to participate in discussions on various health topics, inform themselves about medical issues and learn more about improving their health.
Diagnoses – Allied health and primary care professionals can use telemedicine to facilitate a consultation with a specialist to diagnose a patient’s condition.
Instruction – Medical professionals can access continuing education, seminars and presentations on a variety of topics, no matter where they are located.
Telemedicine is experiencing rapid growth because it can provide valuable benefits, including:
Efficiency - Technology means that a team of specialists, such as dermatologists, can stay in one place and tele-treat patients all over the region, rather than requiring multiple doctors in multiple hospitals to treat the same number of patients.
Convenience - Increasingly, telemedicine is being utilized in workplaces and patients’ homes, for patient consultations, monitoring vital signs, health education and exams.
Cost savings - Telemedicine allows patients to avoid costly transportation expenses to drive or fly to distant hospitals to see specialists. Doctors can do visual examinations through videoconferencing, while local healthcare providers perform tests and physical exams.
Preventing further injury - Physicians can determine whether a patient who’s suffered a stroke requires a blood-clot-busting drug, or if the medication might cause further harm.
Improved access - Telemedicine has been used for decades to bring healthcare to rural and remote areas. Now it allows doctors to expand their reach and in an age of nursing shortages, and improve access to care for millions of patients.
It’s becoming clear that telemedicine can help increase access to healthcare, reduce costs, improve efficiencies and even save lives. While there are limitations, advancing technology will likely continue to improve the quality of healthcare delivered through telemedicine.
In Colorado, all of the state’s largest medical laboratories, including private and hospital laboratories, are active participants in the Colorado Regional Health Information Organization (CORHIO). In addition, all of the state’s large (more than 100 licensed beds) hospitals have connected or are in the process of connecting to the network. More than 1,800 physicians and 100 long-term and post-acute care facilities have connected to the CORHIO, as well.
In West Virginia, 23% of the state’s hospitals are connected to its HIE, as are about 100 clinics and physicians’ practices.
In Indiana, 25,000 physicians, 94 hospitals, and 100 clinics, surgery centers and other healthcare organizations are participating in the state’s HIE. The network includes information from over 90% of healthcare visits in Indianapolis-area hospitals, and processes over one million transactions per day.
Overall, about 60% of hospitals exchanged electronic health information with other providers in 2012, according to a study from the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. That’s an increase of 41% from 2008.
While more hospitals and healthcare providers are connecting with their state’s HIE, a shortage of qualified HIE technicians could be preventing others from following suit. This healthcare information technology (IT) talent void is slowing many providers’ efforts to implement electronic health records requirements.
In fact, the latest survey by the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) revealed that 67% of healthcare executives were experiencing shortages in their IT staff levels. That’s up from 59% in 2010.
Because the government’s mandate is driven by both deadlines and financial incentives, failing to implement the switch to EHRs on time could affect an organization’s chances of qualifying for funding.
Heath information exchange is seen as the critical connection point between healthcare providers, and the best way to improve patient care while reducing expenses. Because information technology is at the heart of HIE, healthcare providers will liley depend on more talented and trained health IT professionals to complete their connection and implement this cost- and potentially life-saving technology.