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Telehealth: A Modern Way to Deliver Healthcare


Certified PAs, who are on the front lines in many rural areas, deliver specialized care utilizing telehealth.

"On-demand" is more than a service provided by the nation's cable companies. Today's patient expects quality care and access to top medical providers no matter where they're located. Telehealth, also called telemedicine, is growing significantly as a means to connect patients to care via remote assistance using telecommunication tools. It's especially helpful in rural areas where there's often a deficit of healthcare providers.

Certified Physician Assistants (PA-Cs) practice on the frontlines of medicine treating an average of 74 patients each week, according to data compiled by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). As the profession grows to meet rising demand for patient services, PAs are often the sole provider in remote areas. PAs can treat patients locally and utilize telehealth methods to consult with their collaborating physician and other specialists when necessary.

For the past five years, I've tapped into this growing phenomena. As a certified PA, it supports a guiding principle of my career to deliver high-quality healthcare to patients in small communities. As a locum tenens contractor, I've practiced medicine in urgent care centers and emergency rooms that utilize telehealth to advance patients' recovery. I've had the advantage of moving across specialties working in orthopedics, general surgery and gastroenterology, and have also practiced with the Indian Health Service, a federal health program for Native Americans and Alaska Natives. Working in telehealth enables the flexibility to work autonomously, travel and learn how different cultures and geographic locations practice medicine.

Over the years, telehealth has gained traction as an emerging form of healthcare. According to a Wall Street Journal report, more than 15 million Americans received medical care remotely in 2015. The article also reports that more than 60 percent of consumers are open to virtual healthcare, as evidenced by approximately 1.2 million patients who were projected to have received some form of care via virtual doctor's visits in 2016. As patients are drawn to the convenience, affordability and instant access to specialized expertise, telehealth is growing in popularity. Telehealth also eliminates the cost and time of lengthy, often inconvenient commutes for remote patients to visit providers in person.

Telehealth works best for the most complex cases. I've used it for cases involving anaphylactic reactions with complications, cardiac arrests, and trauma and stroke victims. Typically, communication takes place through visual and auditory technology, which allows the receiving facility and physician to see patients and talk to the PA on site. We follow protocols according to the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.

Through these interactions, PAs can facilitate:

•Consultations with physician specialists while caring for patients in remote areas

•Nursing staff at a major medical center to help record medical data

•Continuity of care in the transfer of complex and critically ill patients

•Engaging a second pair of eyes on the patient

Many health systems are eager to adopt telehealth to improve patient satisfaction. Though the benefits are convenient and life-saving, installation costs and activating remote assistance from a major medical center can be expensive for the facility requesting service. For simple to intermediate cases, it makes sense to rely on more traditional, less expensive forms of communication such as phone consultations.

The value of telehealth endures with the expansion of healthcare to newly insured patients even during much debate and consternation over the structure of America's healthcare system. More patients can access affordable healthcare and eliminate long wait times by seeing Certified PAs who have integral roles in shaping positive patient experiences. Telehealth is one more tool in our medical kit to advance that cause.

Janelle Hanna, PA-C, has worked as a PA for 24 years and been involved with telehealth for five years. She recently sold her home in South Dakota and is deciding where to settle, but with the flexibility of her locum tenens and telehealth, it could be anywhere.

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