Modern healthcare is at a tipping point. The healthcare sector has rapidly adopted technology, due to the need to improve efficiency and outcomes, and also to reduce costs. Pressure is mounting on physicians and medical facilities to join the digital revolution, and this new breed of healthcare provider (and their respective IT experts) are actively working with cloud storage, mobile access, and wireless functionality. Patients and doctors alike are also embracing video driven remote patient/doctor interaction, taken as far as remote treatment and diagnosis, and the prescribing of medication. Videoconferencing has become an invaluable tool in the health care industry, ensuring access to improving the continuum of care for a variety of patients.
One of the most pressing issues in our continuum of care is what happens to a patient when he or she is discharged from the hospital. Often, patients require follow-up care, therapy, or reminders to comply with prescribed medications. However, some patients are limited in their ability to follow up with their primary care provider because of mobility or transportation concerns. With video technology, providers can follow up with patients to ensure that they’re following discharge orders, and patients never have to leave their homes. When applicable, telemedicine can substitute for office visits, and ensuring patient compliance through telemedicine can reduce the number of hospital readmissions, both of which help to reduce health care costs.
Streamlining the Continuum of Care
Collaboration between networks of existing physicians could be a key to improving patient outcomes. Consultations carried out over video allow doctors to communicate with experts in other fields and at other institutions, allowing access that may not have previously been possible. While long-term care at an out-of-network institution may not be a viable option for many patients struggling with specialized ailments, a telemedicine consult provides a realistic, affordable option.
Providing Access to the Underserved
Rural and low-income urban areas still struggle to attract qualified medical professionals to practice. In some areas of the United States, patients don’t have access to specialists, including neurologists or orthopedic surgeons. Thanks to videoconferencing, specialists from larger markets can view CTs or lab results and make recommendations to the primary care providers who provide care to patients in underserved areas. Ultimately, this has the potential to save patients’ money on travel and out-of-network insurance costs, while saving the hospital money on unnecessary admissions or patients who may not be able to pay. Most importantly, this service can save lives. Whether it’s for a simple medication question or an urgent medical issue, videoconferencing plays an important role in improving the care of residents in rural and low-income areas.
Considerations for the Future
Videoconferencing has the potential to play a vital role in improving the health care system. However, telemedicine is a relatively new prospect that still is working on privacy and licensing concerns. Some physicians fear, for example, that their malpractice insurance won’t cover consults over state lines, while some states disallow telemedicine across state lines in general. To reach its full potential, health information technology providers will have to advocate for its widespread adoption. In the future, we could see telemedicine improve patient health and drive down costs, thanks to the power of collaboration, and the access video collaboration provides. In order to make this dream a reality, health professionals and their IT departments will have to work together to make quality care accessible to patients, regardless of location or limitations.