Telemedicine may replace face-to-face interaction with a doctor - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Telemedicine may replace doctor's visits

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Does a trip to the doctor's office with no wait and no driving sound too good to be true?

Face-to-face healthcare technology known as 'telemedicine' could be coming to your town or smart phone.

Telemedicine has been growing by 10 percent every year helping experts reach small towns and helping patients save both time and money.

Telemedicine offers high-speed healthcare connecting physicians to their patients via live video, phone and email.

"There's lots of mobile applications, there's lots of things that you can do from a technology point of view that, again, can help meet patients in a place where they can partner with their healthcare provider and live healthier lives, hopefully," said Katie Kaney, system vice president at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Telemedicine or telehealth, however, is not a substitute for emergency or regular check-ups. 

With about a fifth of Americans living in locations where a primary doctor is difficult to find, let alone a specialist, telemedicine is bringing digital communication with a doctor right to your desk.

At Carolinas HeathCare System, Dr. Edward Hanley uses telemedicine to provide orthopedic care and advice to patients and primary doctors miles away.

"Every time I've seen a patient I've seen before I say 'Hello! How are you doing? Nice to see you again,'" and Hanley added, "They know me, and I know them, and it's just like they were here."

Not only does this type of video conferencing save everyone a long drive and a lot of time and money, telehealth is also a way to get care to the elderly or disabled.

For example, a patient who needs their blood sugar monitored can have it done by a doctor right from the patient's home. Telemedicine can send vital signs remotely for expert interpretation.

Telemedicine is also helping people get a fast second opinion or provide medical attention during a bad weather situation.

"If we really want to be able to meet people in a place where we can take their care to the next level and partner with it, there's a lot of good use that can come out of that information being available wherever you are," Kaney added.

Skeptics warn of privacy risks which is why Kaney, who oversees all of Carolinas HealthCare System's telemedicine services, says patients should ask about the protection of any telemedicine service they sign up to.

Systems also need to be in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) meaning they should provide the same level of protection as if the patient and doctor were talking face-to-face.

It is also important for patients to secure the information on their end with cell phone and laptop security passwords.

Make sure you understand the set-up of the telemedicine system you are subscribing to whether with a hospital or private telemedicine company.

Find out if the doctor, nurse or a physician's assistant will be responding to your calls or emails. Make sure that person is licensed both in the state where you live as well as the state where they are physically practicing medicine.

Finally, make sure you have access to copies of your telehealth communications.

"We want to make sure that's in your medical records and a continuum of care that we're really trying to preserve for you as a patient," Kaney said.

If you haven't heard about telemedicine yet, ask your hospital group or physician because as interactive healthcare takes off, at your next visit you may hear -- the doctor will see you next time online.

Additional Information:

  • Click to read an article entitled "The doctor will see you now. Please log on" published by The New York Times.
  • A fifth of Americans live in places where primary care physicians are scarce, according to government statistics.
  • The interactive telemedicine business has been growing by almost 10 percent annually, to more than $500 million in revenue in North America this year, according to Datamonitor, the market research firm.
  • MedicareMedicaid, and other government health programs have been reimbursing doctors and hospitals that provide care remotely to rural and under served areas. Now, a growing number of big insurance companies, like the UnitedHealth Group and several Blue Cross plans, are also starting to catch on.
  • The new federal health care law provides $1 billion a year to study telemedicine and other innovations.
  • Face-to-face telemedicine technology can be as elaborate as a high-definition video system, or  it can be as simple as the Webcams available on many laptops.
  • Skeptics are concerned that doctors might miss an opportunity to pick up subtle medical indicators when they cannot touch a patient.
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians says patients should keep in contact with a primary physician who can keep tabs on their health needs, whether in the virtual or the real world.
  • According to the American Telemedicine Association, the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients' health status.
  • Also called "telehealth" videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education and nursing call centers are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth.
  • Some types of telemedicine services include:
    a.) Specialist referrals involve a specialist assisting a general practitioner in giving a diagnosis where a patient "sees" a specialist over live video (most often). Areas include radiology, dermatology, mental health, cardiology, pathology, etc.
    .) Patient consultations include audio, image medical data between patient and health professionals.
    c.) Remote patient monitoring or home telehealth might include a blood sugar reading or ECG reading collected remotely and sent for interpretation.

The following information is from an article entitled "3 regulatory and financial barriers to telemedicine (and possible solution)" published by MedCity News.

  • Only a handful of states have passed laws around private payer reimbursement for telemedicine.
  • Private insurers and government need to loosen up their policies around payment to encourage doctors and hospitals to provide the services and invest in technology.
  • Physicians need licenses for each state in which they practice telemedicine in addition to a license in the state in which they physically practice medicine.

According to the article "Telemedicine: Pros, Cons and Advice for Would-Be Patients" published by, some of the pros of telemedicine is that it levels the playing field for medically under served populations, it saves time driving to doctor and waiting, and it allows for easy second opinions. Some of the cons include issues with connectivity in some regions for videoconferencing, it can't replace all human-to-human contact, and understanding who will be responding to inquires (i.e. doctor or nurse) isn't always clear to patients.

 The following information is from a StarTribune article entitled "Tele-medicine taking off".

  • Proponents say web-calls cut down on emergency room visits and encourage patients to take care of concerns earlier in the process because its more convenient.
  • Skeptics worry doctors will miss subtle clues when they are not face-to-face, privacy issues, and data breaches.

Videoconferencing, transmission of still images, e-health including patient portals, remote monitoring of vital signs, continuing medical education and nursing call centers are all considered part of telemedicine and telehealth. (Source: "Telemedicine Defined", American Telemedicine Association.)

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