Six Ways Telemedicine Can Address Healthcare Challenges

May 4, 2012

If collaboration and coordination are to be greater parts of healthcare's future, then telemedicine can play a big role, according to one health IT executive.

From rising patient volumes to the shrinking ranks of medical professionals, physicians are confronting a number of challenges in caring for patients.

But help may be on the way in the form of telemedicine, according to Kerrie Hora of Cisco Systems, who also sees the technology as a valuable tool in reducing cost of care, attending to an aging patient population, and dealing with ongoing changes to reimbursements and care models.

“With all of these very much trends in the marketplace, how are we going to meet the demand?” Hora, who serves as healthcare business development manager, asked attendees during a recent webinar sponsored by Government Health IT. “Collaboration and coordination among multiple providers that are in different networks as well as in the same network, through the use of technology, can be a great solution to many of the demands that we are facing.”

While many physicians and practices are not yet able to provide telemedicine services due to lack of adequate technology and/or lack of reimbursement, telemedicine should at least be on your radar. That way, when you do have the opportunity to pursue it (and it’s likely headed your way soon) you will be prepared.

To help you get better acquainted with telemedicine, here are six ways Hora says it can help you navigate the changing healthcare landscape.

Consultation at a distance: There are multiple scenarios in which teleconferencing can improve patient care. For instance, if you refer a patient to a faraway specialist but the patient is unable to travel, you can arrange for the patient to receive a video consultation with that specialist. Or, if a patient travels to a faraway hospital for surgery, then goes home for recovery, the surgeon can check in and monitor the patient through teleconferencing.

Home healthcare: If one of your patients is homebound, a visiting nurse or other healthcare professional (and the patient if he is able) can teleconference with you so that you can monitor and view his progress. “This is definitely an area where we are seeing increased momentum, and in the next couple of years this is going to be one of the greatest uses for video,” said Hora.

Also, as more of you participate in Patient-Centered Medical Homes and accountable care organizations (ACOs), teleconferencing with your homebound patients and/or your patients recently discharged from the hospital, can help you better monitor patient care.

Administrative connections: Teleconferencing can help physicians and administrators that are part of larger healthcare systems connect with their colleagues to discuss business and operations decisions. It’s “a great means to bring all those people together to talk about a comprehensive care model, a specific patient, or about a merger that is happening,” said Hora. For physicians who are new to telehealth, this type of teleconferencing is a great way to get started, she said.

Operational coordination: Telemedicine can help you collaborate with other physicians to identify the best treatment for a particular patient, said Hora. Again, this increased care collaboration will be especially key for those of you who are participating in ACOs, as you will need to work with other healthcare professionals to identify the treatment method for a patient at the lowest cost.

Continuing medical education (CME):
Teleconferencing provides an opportunity for physicians and other healthcare professionals to expand their knowledge, said Hora. You can take classes or satisfy requirements such as CMEs through educational teleconferences. Also, if your practice is attempting to recruit new physicians or staff members, educational opportunities through teleconferencing will be a great incentive to provide them, she said.

Teleconferencing also presents great opportunities for your patients, who can view educational seminars and interact with relevant support groups, etc.

Interpretation services: Finally, telemedicine can ease language barriers between you and your patients. If you do not speak the same language as your patient, consider teleconferencing with another healthcare professional who can translate.

Do you use telemedicine in your practice? If not, do you plan to soon? Why or why not?