Once upon a time, not too long ago, there was a woman with diabetes named Charlie, who lived in a faraway land. Despite the beautiful wide open spaces, fresh air, and golden silence, when it came to seeking medical attention, living on the frontier was a great challenge for Charlie. Charlie never knew the gravity of her symptoms and whether or not they granted a lengthy, 4-hour drive to the hospital. Charlie isn’t the only one who faces uncertain circumstances such as these. According to Stanford Medicine, 20% of our nation’s population live in rural communities, while only less than 10% of physicians in the U.S. practice in these areas. What if Charlie could have peace of mind in the midst of her medical concerns? What if she could open up her laptop or mobile device and manage her chronic condition from the comfort of her own home? Fast forward to 2017 and this scenario is now possible and preferable with telehealth, the practice of using telecommunications technology to evaluate, diagnose, and care for patients at a distance.
Telehealth provides greater accessibility to patients with transportation and location barriers and saves time and effort for the health care provider, preventing overcrowded emergency rooms and clinics. Did you know that 71% of emergency room visits are unnecessary and preventable? Many urgent but non-life-threatening conditions can effectively be diagnosed and treated remotely. Hence the reason why Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, as of July 2017, will end reimbursements for non-urgent ER visits and is asking members instead to utilize the insurer’s telehealth platform. All the more reason to stay in bed.
Telehealth doesn’t just benefit people in remote areas. Take, for example, New York City folk who do not have the time to wait a few hours to be seen in a busy urgent care facility or may be too sick to even get out of bed and hop on the busy subway. Telehealth offers solutions like giving patients the ability to request a house call from a mobile app. A doctor arrives at your front door and can diagnose and even prescribe meds right at the point of care. Telehealth can also provide online psychiatric and counseling services. Having a panic attack? Instead of dealing with the attack on your own and waiting to tell the provider about it at your next appointment, seek immediate care with telehealth.
Why hasn't telehealth exploded like any other popular technological software? The lack of understanding of telehealth reimbursement is the largest reason why practices are apprehensive to adopt. It is a common misconception that providers cannot be reimbursed for telemedicine appointments, or that it is possible but only at a reduced rate. Both of which seemingly make telemedicine economically unappealing to physicians. This is simply not the case. Currently, 30 states have mandated private payer reimbursement for delivering care for telemedicine, and many commercial payers are required by state law to reimburse for telemedicine. According to Chiron Health, “The good news is that the popularity of telemedicine is driving legislators and insurance executives toward more progressive policies regarding telemedicine. However, for now, there is a patchwork of coverage.”
Another challenge telehealth faces is the lack of direct contact between the provider and the patient. To overturn this assumption, a study found that 76% of patients would choose telehealth over human contact. People are more concerned with the access of health care rather than the need for in-person interaction.
In the midst of our technology-centric world, it is inevitable that telehealth will continue to permeate the world of health care, becoming a standard of care and having the capacity to reach countries otherwise not able to seek medical advice. Additionally, with the widespread use of mobile software, telehealth will encourage people who normally would not seek medical care to adopt healthier lifestyle habits. pMD continues to evolve with the ever-changing health care climate and recognizes the importance of connecting providers with their remote patients. Stay tuned for upcoming product updates as we work to further build that connection. As the future of telehealth continues to get brighter, you might be surprised at how well you can be healed from a distance.