Telemedicine is an innovation in the healthcare system which allows healthcare providers to provide non-emergency, urgent care to patients using online communication tools such as video conferencing. It is a viable alternative to physical doctor visits, which can be more convenient for both physicians and patients.
So, what problems can telemedicine treat? Acute issues and symptoms including respiratory problems such as asthma and coughing as well as common gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and constipation can be diagnosed through telemedicine.
Additionally, telemedicine can be used for remote patient monitoring, which is especially useful for patients coming out of surgery and rehabilitation.
In this article, we break down the practical applications of telemedicine, and how healthcare providers can improve their medical services through technology.
Telemedicine isn’t an entirely new concept in healthcare. The first examples of telemedicine can be traced back to the 1950s, with doctors then creating a system that could transmit radiology images and share diagnoses to clinics and specialists located miles away from the main hospital.
Since then, telemedicine has been adapted into patient-facing aspects of healthcare. What was once an exclusive tool used among medical practitioners has evolved into a practice that offers benefits to both physicians and patients.
Telemedicine and Telehealth: What’s The Difference?
Telemedicine and telehealth are two terms that are often used interchangeably, and while they have overlapping similarities, telehealth ultimately refers to the broad range of health services, including telemedicine, that incorporates modern technology. In short, telemedicine is more accurately a subset of telehealth.
Telemedicine is a branch of telehealth where physicians and specialists use tools to perform diagnoses, share data and findings, and connect with patients remotely. There are different ways to incorporate telehealth in your clinic.
In this article, we are going to specifically discuss telemedicine and its practical applications for your practice or hospital.
Does Telemedicine Work?
According to the American Health Association (AHA), more than half of all U.S. hospitals currently have a telemedicine program. Despite this, telemedicine still feels like an alien service. Convincing fellow doctors to lessen their burden through remote data access is one thing; convincing clients to participate in consultations using video conference is another.
While doctors may feel hesitant about converting their patients into using telemedicine, research suggests that patients who have already tried telemedicine are willing to adapt to this technology.
- IT powerhouse Cisco performed a study and revealed that patients are comfortable with having their health records stored securely on the cloud
- The same report by Cisco showed that 74% of the surveyed patients are comfortable using technology to connect with their doctors
- A report by the AHA revealed that 76% of the surveyed patients care more about access to healthcare than in-person interaction
It’s not so much that telemedicine is incompatible with current healthcare programs; most bottlenecks to adaptation are rooted in the social aspect of healthcare, as well as concerns over data security. But with robust systems in place, both these bottlenecks can be easily overcome with proper education and organization.
Telemedicine doesn’t just improve the customer experience. The Veterans Health Administration’s post-cardiac arrest care program decreased hospital readmissions for heart failure by 51% and other illnesses by up to 44% after using telemedicine services.
Ultimately, telemedicine isn’t just innovation on patient communications – it’s a tool that can greatly improve the level of care patients receive, even outside the doctor’s office.
Benefits of Telemedicine
With continued adoption, this fast-growing field will expand into more services and offer more expansive benefits to physicians and patients alike.
Nonetheless, the current benefits of telemedicine are already palpable. Listed below are some of the top benefits of switching over to remote patient clinical services.
Saves Time On Patient Visits
Hospitals are breaking over backward trying to accommodate the volume of cases and patients every day. With tactical scheduling, overworked physicians, which is just as true in the United States as it is everywhere else, can transform long hospital visits to quick, comprehensive consultation sessions over video chat.
Instead of having to squeeze multiple patients in-between urgent care, physicians can save time on unnecessary patient visits and determine whether or not a hospital visit is necessary through video chat. Telemedicine streamlines the consultation process and eliminates unnecessary hospital visits, which will allow hospitals to distribute their resources more efficiently.
Consistent Patient Care
With telemedicine, hospitals and medical practices can put basic patient care functions on autopilot. By using a smart calendar and notification system, patients can be instantly reminded of follow-up sessions and improve successful follow-up rates.
When it comes to preventative care and post-hospital care maintenance, doctors can send out an email blast detailing at-home monitoring techniques, on top of regular video calls. Educational materials such as articles, web pages, and videos can be distributed to patients, giving them access to real medical information whenever they need it.
By eliminating the need to physically visit a hospital, patients are no longer obligated to take the time off their busy lives for a doctor visit, which will allow more patients to participate in preventative care and take on a more responsible role when managing their own health.
Lower Readmission Rates
With improved communication with their primary physicians, hospitals can encourage patients to be more compliant. Because consultations will become more regular, patients are inclined to listen to their physician’s instructions and take steps to improve their health. This is especially beneficial for patients with chronic diseases, as well as patients who are at a high risk of developing comorbidities.
More Access To Specialists
Patients in remote areas don’t always have access to local specialists. You can create a trusted network of primary care physicians and specialists via telemedicine technology, which will allow you to connect your patients with specialized care regardless of their location. This removes the burden of traveling long distances to receive a diagnosis in part of the patient or conduct a consultation in part of the physician.
Reduced Healthcare Costs
With telemedicine, patients can save on transportation and other costs associated with an in-person visit. This is especially important to patients with chronic health problems or patients that require consistent monitoring. With frequent check-ups and improved compliance, patients can also improve their health at home and avoid rehospitalization.
As for physicians, telemedicine allows doctors to be properly compensated for their time. Instead of answering patient inquiries over the phone at random times, remote consultations are now billable and organized through a schedule.
Top Medical Specialties Involving Telemedicine
Telemedicine redefines rehabilitation by showing patients that medical professionals don’t have to be on-site to provide the same level of support.
Telemedicine allows physical therapists and other rehab professionals to care for patients with specialized devices. On top of video calls, telerehabilitation typically includes other technologies including sensors that measure blood pressure, glucose levels, and physical activity. These will allow clinicians to monitor their patient’s progress and overall well-being the same way they would in a hospital.
Recorded activities and video conferences in real-time can guide patients suffering from acute and traumatic injuries, regardless of where they’re located.
Before seeking out a dermatologist, patients with access to telemedicine services can consult with their primary physician regarding skin anomalies. By exchanging photos and conducting video consultation, primary care doctors can determine whether or not a skin anomaly requires urgent care. Additionally, prescriptions for allergies, skin inflammations, and other skin issues can be delivered via telemedicine.
Telepsychiatry is the practice of conducting psychological and psychiatric evaluations and sessions over video call. With unimpeded access, psychiatrists can observe higher participation rates and improved quality of life, especially in rural areas.
Patients receiving psychiatric services overcome common burdens associated with getting mental health treatments via telemedicine. Because sessions are conducted at home, the stigma of being seeking out a psychologist is reduced.
As with other applications of telemedicine, patients now have the opportunity to find a psychiatrist that works for them, instead of limiting their options due to geographical location.
Getting second opinions for imaging results is a common concern for patients. For those with limited radiology clinics in their area, telemedicine opens up the possibility of seeking out a professional with an entirely different medical history and therefore reaching a more nuanced diagnosis.
For practices, this means more bookings and consultations. By opening up your radiology practice to non-local customers, you can expand your clinic’s reach and provide your services to an entirely new market.
What Can You Use Telemedicine For?
As a tool, telemedicine can be customized depending on what your practice or hospital needs. The practices listed above are the leading advocates of telemedicine, but that doesn’t mean other medical specialties can’t adopt the same strategies.
For instance, teleoncology is steadily gaining traction among the medical community. With store-and-forward solutions, oncologists can share images faster and perform timelier diagnoses. Naturally, this involves video consultations for patients.
Here are some practical applications of telemedicine:
Symptom Management and Diagnosis
Acute health problems don’t always warrant a hospital visit. With telemedicine, primary care physicians can provide diagnosis and treatment outside of the doctor’s office. This is applicable to issues like the cold or flu, diarrhea, acute infections, bladder infections, allergies, and other conditions that can be treated at home and don’t require urgent care. For the most part, these health problems can be remedied with prescription medication and stay-at-home care.
Patients concerned over new symptoms can easily acquire peace of mind by consulting remotely with their doctor. This reduces treatment delays and allows the patient to move forward at their own pace.
Going back to the hospital after surgery or rehabilitation can be tricky for some patients, especially those who are living alone or have mobility issues. With telemedicine services, patients can participate in post-hospitalization care without having to leave the comfort of their homes. Patient monitoring becomes possible, reducing the risk of complications and infections, especially with surgeries.
Follow-up visits can be a burden to patients with scheduling difficulties, so much so that most patients opt out of second visits due to travel issues. By adopting telemedicine, your physicians can administer consistent clinical care remotely and deliver news, schedule additional tests, or prescribe medicine in a way that is more convenient for patients.
Chronic Disease Management
Chronic diseases require constant medical attention and participation in part of the patient, which might not be feasible for everyone. With scheduling constraints, sticking to regular hospital visits might not be favorable for all patients.
With telemedicine, chronic disease management becomes more convenient. It’s easier to help patients maintain good health with regular online updates as opposed to limited in-hospital contact.
Primary Care Physician Consultation
Overcrowded emergency rooms are a common issue in the United States. With telemedicine, patients can consult with their primary care physicians, who will then decide whether their case warrants a visit to the emergency room. Doing so allows hospitals to allocate limited emergency room capacity properly and actually focus on patients who need urgent care.
Patients with compromised immune systems will also benefit from this; they can have continued access to clinical services even without a hospital visit. With remote patient access, they can enjoy the same level of convenient care, without having to worry about exposing themselves to the hospital environment.
With telemedicine, acquiring additional prescriptions becomes hassle-free. To prevent drug abuse, hospitals using telemedicine for medical prescriptions are expected to abide by pharmacology laws, including limiting supply to no more than 30 days and limiting drug prescriptions to controlled substances and other addicting non-therapeutic drugs.
Counselling and Behavioral Health
Research shows that telepsychiatry is a viable form of treatment and that results from video conferencing are comparable to results resulting from conventional treatment. This is true among diverse demographics, which goes to show that telepsychiatry works as a more accessible alternative to visiting a psychiatrist in the doctor’s office.
In fact, telepsychiatry might even lead to improved compliance on the patient’s part. Because patients don’t have to go out of their way to schedule their sessions, they have can still have access to medical education and convenient care, even when they are too busy to make time.
What health issues can you address with telemedicine?
Telemedicine is perfect for dealing with non-emergency conditions and symptoms such as:
- Insect bites
- Sore throat
- Pink eye
- Panic disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorder
On top of video conferencing in real-time, doctors may use supplementary tools such as biometric tracking devices, activity platforms, and recorded videos to complete patient care.
Promoting Telemedicine: Tips and Tricks
Making the transition from conventional care to remote medical services can be tough on both physicians and patients.
To ensure doctors will actually make the most out of the system, your telemedicine system should be straightforward and easy to use, otherwise, the switch to remote monitoring becomes moot. Discussing their daily routine, common workload, and top bottlenecks will help you create a system that works best for the team.
As for patients, there are different ways to educate them about the benefits of telemedicine. At PracticeBloom, we’ve developed tried and tested techniques for marketing telemedicine as a new service. Here are some ways to get started:
- Creating a seamless platform or website where patients (especially the elderly) can easily create schedules. This platform would ideally allow your team to communicate with patients and have a notification system in place that will remind both physicians and patients about their next video conferencing session.
- Developing medical education content in the form of articles, videos, and quick infographics. Longform articles are best in delivering expansive information and will help your patients understand its benefits. This can also serve as a dependable knowledge hub where a patient can access medical information even without the help of an on-call doctor.
- Highlighting the benefits of telemedicine and telehealth by putting an emphasis on accessibility and less reliance on an in-person visit, as well as remote monitoring.
- Checking in with health insurance providers about their telemedicine policies and ensuring patients are knowledgeable of inclusive medical networks.
- Prioritizing continuity is important in any patient consultation. It’s good to create a system that gives any on-call doctor access to a patient’s history, consultation records, and medical information, so that patients can get what they need, regardless of who is on duty.
- Promoting your telemedicine practice using social media. Patients won’t know they have access to remote care if they never hear about it. On top of informing them personally, advertising this on social media will help spread the word about your new telemedicine service. More importantly, these ads will also be picked up by new demographics, which would invite new and interested patients to your practice or hospital.
- Sending regular email blasts regarding telemedicine and similar issues. Weekly or monthly newsletters are a great way to keep your patients up-to-date with the latest services and products. Make sure to leverage email marketing properly when promoting your new telemedicine service.
Finally, it’s important to work with a marketing team that knows the medical field like the back of their hands. Before signing on with a telemedicine marketing company, make sure their services actually match your needs, and that they can provide a stellar level of service for you and your patients.
Continue reading: What is the Future of Telemedicine?