For almost two decades, we've been hearing about the advantages of electronic health records, and the way technology can advance medicine. I've seen in my own recent healthcare visits how health records are changing. Not only do these records make it easier for my healthcare provider to access my history, they are also easier to transfer to new care providers (which is helpful since I've moved across the country twice in the last year).
Technology isn't just advancing in the way we manage our histories or in the kind of machines and techniques we use for diagnosis and treatment. Interconnectedness is also giving us new ways to interact with our healthcare providers, no matter where we are.
"The relationship between a healthcare provider and their patient is a key part of delivering high-quality care," says Bret Larsen, the CEO of eVisit.com, a company that provides a telemedicine platform for doctors to treat their patients online. "Maintaining that in any care situation, no matter how urgent, is crucial and helps promote care continuity." The rise of telemedicine is one of the ways that physicians can treat their own patients more effectively, even if they aren't in the same room.
How Can Telemedicine Help?
One of the most interesting results seen with telemedicine is that the patient outcomes can be just as good as with office visits. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that certain patients had roughly the same rates for follow-up visits, whether they initially received care in-person or via telemedicine. Given that the medical community sometimes considers follow-up appointments a proxy for treatment failure or misdiagnosis, the results are encouraging.
Not only can telemedicine be helpful to those who have difficulty accessing healthcare facilities near where they live, it can also be cheaper. The modern 'anytime, anywhere' healthcare (or Uber-ification of health services if you can call it that), "can be less expensive than office visits, which is an advantage at a time when healthcare costs continue to rise," Larsen points out.
Another benefit of telemedicine is its power to reduce hospital readmissions and unnecessary visits to urgent care centers or the emergency room. Patient with minor acute conditions (such as infections) increasingly end up in the ER if they can't get quick, convenient care from their primary care doctor. This crowds the ER and hikes up the avoidable medical costs for both patients and our healthcare system. Telemedicine platforms allow primary care providers to deliver convenient, urgent care to their patients and keep those costs down.
While telemedicine has some limitations, it still provides a big opportunity to improve our healthcare system. The healthcare community currently lacks a set of standard guidelines and policies for delivering telemedicine. State laws and insurance carriers lag behind the telemedicine trends. And of course, there will always be situations where patients need to see a physician in-person to receive a diagnosis and get treatment. Still, the growing demand for more convenient care along with our nation's need to reduce healthcare spending will likely continue to push telemedicine forward.
New technologies are making healthcare and doctors more accessible every day. Just as we have new ways to disrupt transportation and work, telemedicine is disrupting healthcare.