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.
The following information is from an article entitled "3 regulatory and financial barriers to telemedicine (and possible solution)" published by MedCity News.
According to the article "Telemedicine: Pros, Cons and Advice for Would-Be Patients" published by HealthState.org, 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".
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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