Within the United States, hospital physicians began experimenting with telemedicine over 50 years ago. Currently, due to the transformation of technology, telemedicine is now a multi-billion-dollar industry practiced in over a dozen countries.
What exactly does telemedicine entail? Telemedicine is healthcare delivered to patients by licensed healthcare providers including evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment via an offsite location while using technology.
There are several benefits that telemedicine offers for both medical practitioners and their patients. Telemedicine reduces the cost of transportation between patients and their provider’s healthcare facilities. This is particularly helpful for rural settings where patients and medical facilities are more scarcely spread out. Telemedicine also allows for far more flexibility in appointment scheduling seeing as an encounter could take place virtually anywhere. Healthcare providers can see their patients while out of town or simply away from their regular practicing facility. If a provider has multiple practice locations, telemedicine aids to alleviate the physical restraint on practitioners from being unavailable due to being at a separate location. Similarly, telemedicine allows patients the flexibility of seeing their own, in network doctors if unavailable to physically present at their doctor’s office. All around, telemedicine allows medical practitioners to reach and treat a broader patient base.
There are some limitations and concerns still affecting the practice of telemedicine, however. Healthcare professionals must utilize HIPAA compliant software as well as abide by HIPAA guidelines while practicing telemedicine. It is of the utmost importance that healthcare providers be aware that not all video software and technology offer a secure line of communication to protect patient confidentiality. Therefore, it is advisable to thoroughly research telemedicine software vendors even if they state they are HIPAA compliant. The devices used must also be reliable and without falter. The provider-patient encounter must always be accessible, integrating with ease within the provider’s practice.
26 states currently have parity laws which do require private insurance to offer coverage for telemedicine encounters. However, there are restrictions and guidelines to follow as with any healthcare provided. Checking your specific state laws as well as each patient’s insurance policy coverage is always recommended prior to scheduling an appointment. There can be variations in coverage from policy to policy. Some insurers require a patient relationship be developed before they will cover virtual treatment. Also, some insurers will cover telemedicine through multiple mediums such as secure email, real-time video encounters, content sharing between practitioners, and remote patient monitoring while other insurers strictly limit coverage to real-time video encounters.
We do know telemedicine has much to be developed, yet it is currently allowing healthcare across the globe in ways only half a century ago would not have been possible. Healthcare will always be a necessity, and as the development to thoroughly and conscientiously treat patients by a virtual means advances, so will telemedicine.