Could Online Speech Therapy Be Just As Effective As In-Person Visits?

Many areas of medicine are continuing to improve with the advent of telemedicine practices. A growing number of people are able to consult with specialists remotely, have their medical conditions (both chronic and acute) diagnosed and treated, and have better overall health care because of these advances. As technology affects and transforms the health care industry, it’s likely we’ll continue to see additional telemedicine services being offered for a variety of medical issues. In recent years, teletherapy has been used to help treat individuals who need speech therapy. Here’s a look at how these online options can be just as useful as in-person visits.

Speech therapy is the evaluation and treatment of people who are having issues with speech, language, cognitive function, or problems that affect their learning, memory, or problem-solving skills. There are also swallowing disorders that can be treated with speech therapy. Adults can develop speech issues after a stroke, traumatic brain injury, or concussion, or because of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease, ALS, or multiple sclerosis. Although adults can be in need of treatment, it’s more likely that people hear about speech therapy for children.

There are several speech disorders children experience that can benefit from speech therapy, including articulation disorders (difficulties producing sounds or saying words incorrectly), fluency disorders (stuttering, partial-word repetitions, or prolonged sounds), and resonance or voice disorders (problems with pitch, volume, or quality of voice that can cause pain or discomfort for the child). There are also specific language disorders, such as receptive disorders (difficulty understanding or processing language), expressive disorders (difficulty putting words together or limited vocabulary), and cognitive-communication disorders (difficulty with communication skills like memory, perception, and regulation) that can occur in childhood. Children can also need speech therapy because of hearing impairments, developmental delays, weak oral muscles, birth defects, autism, and respiratory problems.

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With online speech therapy options now more widely available, children and families all over the U.S. are seeing the benefits.

A speech therapist, or speech-language pathologist (SLP), is educated in the study of human communication, its development, and its disorders. They typically hold a master’s degree and state certification or license, along with a certificate of clinical competency from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). They use different strategies to help eliminate or alleviate a person’s symptoms. With children, these methods can include language intervention activities, which have the therapist interact with the child by playing and talking and using repetition exercises to build language skills. There is also articulation therapy, where the therapist models correct sounds for the child during specific play activities. Oral-motor/feeding and swallowing therapy can also be beneficial for some patients. Therapists can build on each step of progress the child makes and create new goals as they continue on with the speech therapy sessions.

The use of online speech therapy has continued to grow for a number of reasons. First, it can be challenging for some families to find qualified speech therapists near them – especially if they live in a rural area. Access to high-quality therapy can be essential for patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to access help. Second, using these teletherapy methods means that it can sometimes be more affordable for the patient. Some school districts in the U.S. offer speech therapy to their students, but many districts don’t have the resources to provide complete, comprehensive care. However, they might have more funds to provide online speech therapy, since this can be a cheaper option. Additionally, if parents can’t afford in-person therapy sessions, they might find that online therapy can be more affordable.

There are other benefits to using telemedicine measures for speech therapy. Using online video conferences can mean that families have much more convenient options for treatment. Sessions can be scheduled when it’s most convenient for the parents and child. For busy working parents, families who use online therapy services also don’t have to worry about finding transportation for their children for in-person visits. Therefore, scheduling and completing sessions can be a less stressful experience for the whole family.

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There are numerous benefits to using telemedicine for speech therapy, especially for children.

There also can be something of a stigma attached to therapy. For some kids, going to a speech therapist for help with a stutter or speech impediment can make them feel different to or singled out from other kids in their class. They can miss important classwork and time spent in the classroom, which can make them feel separate from their friends or cause them to fall behind in their schoolwork. Online speech therapy can mean that the child can get the same help outside of school hours without setting themselves apart from their classmates or taking them away from valuable class time. This can end up boosting their confidence and overall self-esteem.

Online speech therapy can also be more therapeutically beneficial. Oftentimes, students who meet with a school therapist do so infrequently. Much of the progress gained during a session can be lost from week to week (or during longer periods of time). Teletherapy video conferences mean a student can have more consistent treatment and possibly more frequent sessions to enhance the treatment and boost odds of improvement. Telemedicine can actually be a more advantageous option than traditional in-person methods if more persistent treatment is available to the patient.

Not only can online speech therapy be just as effective as in-person visits, it can also actually have even further benefits. Treatment can be more affordable, more convenient, and more progressive, resulting in children (and adults) facing a greater chance of seeing their symptoms improve or disappear altogether. With these noticeable advantages, it’s no wonder telemedicine measures are continuing to grow across the country.

How Telemedicine Can Help Improve Treatment for Sickle Cell Patients

Sickle cell anemia is a condition that affects more than 200,000 people in the United States every year. The treatment requires many patients to see their doctor on a monthly basis, which can be difficult for people living in rural areas or without direct access to specialized medical care. However, with an increase in telemedicine technology, more patients are able to receive effective treatment remotely. They can get the help they need without having to set foot in a doctor’s office. Here’s a look at how sickle cell patients can use telemedicine to improve their care.

Sickle cell anemia is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders where there is a problem with a person’s hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen through the body). Hemoglobin cells are normally disc-shaped, but with sickle cell, the hemoglobin forms into stiff rods within the cells that change the shape to a sickle shape. They are not flexible and can’t change shape easily, resulting in many of them bursting apart as they move through the blood vessels. Normally, healthy cells last between 90 and 120 days. However, patients with sickle cell anemia have cells that only last 10 to 20 days. The body experiences difficulty in making enough new cells, causing a lack of red blood cells.

Sickle cell anemia is caused by a defective gene and can be diagnosed with a blood test. In the U.S., most patients are African American, although some people with Hispanic, Southern European, Middle Eastern, or Asian Indian backgrounds can have the diagnosis too. Currently, about one in every 13 African American infants is born with the sickle cell trait, while about one in every 365 African American children is born with the full sickle cell disease.

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There are many benefits to telemedicine, including improved treatment options for sickle cell anemia patients.

If people have sickle cell disease, there are usually symptoms present during the first year after being born (typically around five months old). Some symptoms include painful swelling of the hands and feet, fatigue, fussiness, and jaundice. The severity of these symptoms can differ from person to person and can vary over time. Patients with sickle cell anemia often experience pain crises. This is when the sickle cells stick to the vessel walls, creating a blockage that slows or stops the flow of blood. Oxygen then can’t reach the tissues. This lack of oxygen can cause sudden and severe pain with no warning. These crises usually result in the patient seeking treatment at a hospital. Complications from the disease can also present as anemia, organ damage, and infections.

As of now, the only cure for sickle cell anemia is bone marrow or stem cell transplantation. These transplants can be extremely risky procedures and can have serious side effects, so they’re usually only used in severe cases with children. There are some treatments that can help alleviate symptoms and lessen complications. These include antibiotics to prevent infections, pain relievers for acute or chronic pain, and blood transfusions to help with severe anemia. Many patients take the medication hydroxyurea, which increases the amount of fetal hemoglobin in the blood, resulting in a reduction in sickle cell complications. Although there are great strides being made for improved treatment options, the average life expectancy for sickle cell patients is between 40 and 60 years old.

There are some ways that sickle cell patients can see hope, and one aspect of that is through the increased use of telemedicine in treatment regimens. A great example of this is in Georgia through a program at Augusta University. This program utilizes telemedicine and video chats between doctor and patient to help make treatment more accessible, convenient, and affordable. The first appointment is made in person so the patient can get a full medical workup, then the follow-up meetings can be done remotely. Dr. Betty Pace is a big part of this program, and she has seen over 250 patients with sickle cell disease via video conference during the last two and a half years of the program.

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A program at Augusta University utilizes telemedicine and video chats between doctor and patient to help improve sickle cell treatment.

“Access to care is so important, not just with sickle cell disease, but for any [wellness] visits and preventative medicine,” Dr. Pace said in an interview with a local news channel. “The possibilities are endless of how we can use telemedicine.” She continued by saying that the patients in the program are eager to use this mode of treatment. “We asked them would they prefer the telemedicine to something else and pretty much hands down, they say yes.”

All of the video conference appointments consist of a camera, Internet connection, and Bluetooth devices. Dr. Pace explained, “We can do nose and throat exams. We can listen to the lungs with a Bluetooth stethoscope. We listen to the heart sounds and then we have a nice monitor where we can look at skin rashes.” Even though they’re conducted remotely, these exams can be as thorough and as effective as an in-person visit.

Plus, there are many benefits to the telemedicine method. Patients can schedule appointments at more convenient times and don’t have to worry about transportation to a doctor’s office (especially if they live in rural areas). Additionally, costs can be more affordable since patients won’t have to factor in office fees to their visit. There are also no wait times, which can be a frustrating aspect of visiting in-person clinics. Telemedicine can allow for instant care for sickle cell patients who need to be monitored closely or who might be in the middle of a pain crisis. By offering more convenient and accessible care, these patients can receive treatment no matter where they live or how far they are from sickle cell anemia specialists.

It’s likely that the use of telemedicine in treating sickle cell patients will continue to grow as more medical professionals see the success of the programs like the one at Augusta University. Video conferences will probably become one of the main tools that doctors use to communicate with their patients in the future. And most importantly, sickle cell patients will get the care they need to manage their symptoms and lead healthy and full lives.

Can Teletherapy Help Overcrowded College Counseling Centers?

An increasing number of college students are in need of help with their mental health. Around 12% of college students in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Additionally, as many as 7–9% of students suffer from depression. These numbers mean that a significant amount of students will need to reach out for support during their college years. However, college counseling centers are notoriously understaffed. There are often long wait times to be seen, inexperienced mental health professionals, and a limited amount of help that can be offered. But there might be a solution to help these overcrowded and underfunded centers: teletherapy.

Teletherapy is quickly becoming a popular option for students looking for support with their mental health. With access to mental health professionals 24/7 and typically less expensive fees, teletherapy can be a great alternative to a traditional college counseling center. Some college organizations are paving the way by providing these telemedicine options versus offering in-person visits. For example, the national sorority, Sigma Kappa, has recently partnered with Talkspace, a well-known online therapy service. The service has also already partnered with two fraternities, Alpha Tau Omega and Delta Tau Delta.

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The stresses and pressures of college can contribute to students’ mental health problems.

These organizations offer their members free access to Talkspace for three months. After that time, students can decide if they’d like to continue using the service and can pay for it on their own (although some insurance plans might still cover this type of therapy). Typical plans through Talkspace usually cost about $59 a week. These plans include video, audio, and text messaging communications with a licensed therapist, along with a monthly 30-minute live-chat session. Because in-person therapy can be costly (even with insurance coverage), students will pay way less than the standard fees of $75–$150 an hour for a session.

In a statement from Sigma Kappa, the organization wrote, “The collaboration brings a modern and student-friendly mental health solution to Sigma Kappa members across the nation as a new term starts, and in a time when anxiety and depression levels are on the rise among college students.”

Because suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, it is necessary that collegiate organizations start to provide better support to students that are struggling. Symptoms of depression and anxiety can be worsened by the many pressures of college life – everything from demanding classes and playing on a competitive sports team to conflict in relationships and the temptation of alcohol or drug use. It’s imperative that students have access to the health care they need to function and thrive in college. Without this vital help, students’ symptoms can worsen, even leading to them dropping out of school.

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Through teletherapy, many students are finding it easier and cheaper to access mental health care.

According to the American Psychological Association, access to counseling helps around 65% of students who used a counseling center to stay in school. But the structures in place now to help students are most likely not doing nearly enough. College counseling centers are notoriously underfunded, and there usually aren’t enough available mental health providers to meet with all of the students that need attention. And the need for students to get help is only increasing as the years go by. In fact, one study noted that in the past several years, there’s been a 30% increase in students needing mental health services. For example, one organization, the International Association of Counseling Services, recommends no more than 1,000 to 1,500 students per college counselor, when in reality, campuses typically have one counselor for every 1,737 students.

Talkspace, or other similar teletherapy services, can be significantly helpful to students. First off, there is still some stigma in our country when people are suffering from a mental illness. It can be incredibly intimidating to reach out and ask for help. Many people are concerned that their friends or family might think badly about them if they knew they were struggling. With teletherapy options, a student doesn’t even need to step foot in the counseling center. They can access a therapist from the comfort of their dorm room or home – without worrying about what other people will think about them. This can mean that more students can get help instead of staying silent in their suffering.

Second, students who are living on a tight budget can seek help for a low fee without having to worry about what will be covered by their student health care plan or their insurance. The flat fees provided by these services takes out all the guesswork of how much they’ll actually get charged for each session. Plus, services like Talkspace mean that students don’t have to stress about fitting in-person visits into their busy schedules of classes and work. These teletherapy options are much more convenient because the therapist and patient can communicate only when it’s manageable for the both of them.

One of the best aspects of using teletherapy for college students is that the counseling centers will be more available for students who are currently experiencing crisis situations. The centers will have more staff to deal with these type of emergency cases, and teletherapy options can provide aid for students who aren’t in life-threatening situations. Hopefully, as colleges begin to see the benefits of using teletherapy measures, they’ll start to provide their students with more access to mental health care services, resulting in more help for a greater number of students.

How Telehealth and Drugstore Clinics Can Improve Our Health Care

Telehealth services are increasingly being offered throughout the United States. These services are working to provide improved health care for all Americans. Video health care, or telehealth measures, give people immediate access to medical professionals who can effectively diagnose and treat injuries and illnesses. A growing number of drugstore clinics have also gotten into the telehealth game recently, driving the telemedicine trend even further.

CVS Health recently announced that they will be introducing internet access for their MinuteClinic treatment facilities in many states. Although these clinics in CVS drugstore locations can be more convenient than going to a doctor’s office, they can still have wait times of several hours during peak times. So, CVS has found a solution. They’ll also be offering the ability for patients to gain access to medical professionals (like nurse practitioners and physician assistants) 24/7 from their mobile devices. All they’ll have to do is log on through the CVS Pharmacy app (available for both iPhone and Android users) to get treated.

Each patient has to complete a health questionnaire indicating their medical history and current issue; then they’re matched to a board-certified health care provider that’s licensed in their state. The provider goes over the questionnaire and conducts a video-enabled visit to assess the patient’s condition and come up with an appropriate treatment plan. Providers can even prescribe medications through this service (and they don’t have to be filled at CVS pharmacies). They can also make referrals if they determine that an in-person doctor’s visit would be better for that particular case. These video visits typically last about 15 minutes. That means it’s a quick and easy doctor’s visit conducted right from your phone, without you ever having to leave the house!

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CVS has introduced internet access for their MinuteClinic treatment facilities in many states.

There are tons of benefits to interacting with a medical professional in a MinuteClinic or straight through the app – the main one being that patients can now get care whenever and wherever they need it. When they’re seen by a doctor doesn’t depend on how many other patients need to be treated, so they’re able to get immediate care. Patients who live in rural or remote areas can also have more access to treatment without having to worry about transportation to a facility. Increased access means there’s a more even distribution of care for people throughout the country.

Another great benefit is that these clinics and video chats are much cheaper than an in-person doctor’s office or emergency room visit. In fact, using the MinuteClinic online service costs just $59 with a credit or debit card. Some reports say that an average ER visit typically costs around $2,000, which represents a huge amount of savings. Currently, insurance isn’t taken by CVS for telehealth visits, but the company is working on getting insurance coverage in the future. This service can also be extremely helpful for those individuals without health insurance, since everything can be paid for out-of-pocket. Plus, with a set flat rate, patients can’t be nickel and dimed with added costs. This, in turn, will help make health care more affordable and accessible for people at any income level.

There aren’t many restrictions on who can use the telehealth services, either. As long as the patient is two years old and up, they can use these telehealth options for a variety of minor injuries and illnesses including:

  • Seasonal allergies
  • Colds and coughs
  • Earaches
  • Flu
  • Sinus infections
  • Sore throats
  • Upset stomachs
  • Women’s services (like UTIs)
  • Minor injuries

Since patients can be treated for these types of conditions (among others), it means that there will be reduced wait times in emergency rooms and urgent care clinics. Individuals with non-life-threatening issues can be treated with video visits, so patients with more serious problems will be able to see a doctor more quickly. In fact, the American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America states that more than 75% of doctor, urgent care, and emergency room visits can be handled through a video chat.

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More and more drugstores across the U.S. are getting involved in telemedicine by offering telehealth services.

Other drugstore chains are also getting into the telemedicine race. Rite Aid has begun to work with telehealth service provider, InTouch Health, to add telehealth kiosks to their pharmacies. It’s likely an increasing number of stores will continue to implement these services to help better serve their customers. And it seems that many people are more than happy with the care they’re getting through these telehealth options. A CVS Health study noted that more than 95 percent of patients who used the video chats were highly satisfied with the quality of care they received. The same study indicated that 95% of patients were satisfied with the convenience and overall experience of the telehealth option, making it a no-brainer for choosing it in the future.

As telemedicine becomes more mainstream as time goes by, it’s likely more people in the U.S. will have access to quality health care. Patients won’t be limited by their location or whether there are certain medical professionals in their area. Treatment options will be more affordable, because providers won’t be able to charge added fees for office visits or expensive emergency room care. Overall, drugstore clinics and telehealth services like CVS’ MinuteClinic will help to improve both access to and the cost of health care for the whole country.

What Will the Next 12 Months Hold for Telemedicine?

Telemedicine is continuing to transform the world of health care with every passing year. Patients are able to easily connect with physicians or specialists through the use of video or online chats and can access more effective treatment plans by using technology to transfer their records and medical data. There are several changes that will take place in the next 12 months and are likely to have a positive effect on both patients and medical professionals. Here’s a look at some of the telemedicine trends that will occur over the next year.

Increase in people who use telemedicine

Telemedicine is a quickly growing field and has been making great strides for the last several decades. As more doctors, hospitals, and health care providers begin to use telehealth platforms, those numbers will only continue to grow in 2019. According to a recent report, around 7 million patients used telehealth measures in the U.S. in 2018. That’s up from 350,000 patients in 2013 – which is actually a 19,000% increase in just five years. This number is only expected to grow in the future as more people use telehealth services for various medical needs (from managing a chronic condition to consulting a physician about an injury).

More access to specialists

As telemedicine measures are used by more people, there will be increased access to physicians and specialists. Regardless of where they live, people can connect with medical professionals to help with diagnoses or treatment plans. More and more doctors using telemedicine means that the network will continue to broaden. This means that patients could even seek help from physicians internationally, ensuring that they’re always getting the best care regardless of their location. More access will lead to a wider knowledge base (especially with chronic or rare conditions) that can only benefit patient care in the future.

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At the pace it’s currently moving, telemedicine is set to keep advancing quickly over the next twelve months.

Better remote services

An increasing number of health care companies are expanding their remote services in a variety of fields, including dermatology, mental health, addiction treatment, stroke care, and many others. These services, which can be conducted without patients having to make in-person visits, can be cost-saving and can increase the chances a patient will have of receiving timely care. Currently, more than half the hospitals in the U.S. offer some type of telehealth options for their patients.

Remote services also allow for shorter wait times at doctor’s office waiting rooms and emergency rooms (since patients with non-life-threatening cases can connect with a physician remotely via a video chat). In fact, according to statistics from the American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America, more than 75% of doctor, urgent care, or ER visits could be handled effectively through a phone or video chat.

Increased ability to share records

As a larger number of companies are relying on technology to improve their patient care, telemedicine is helping by allowing medical professionals to more easily and efficiently share records and test results with colleagues and specialists, regardless of distance. Patients then receive better care because it’s so easy for information to be shared within a treatment team or if the patient is transferring to another physician. Improvements in telehealth technology also mean that patients have more convenient access to their own medical records and test results online.

More telemedicine coverage from insurance companies

In the last several years, more than 29 states have already required health insurance coverage for patients who were using telemedicine. In 2015, more than 25 states mandated that patients had to be reimbursed for services from telemedicine. More telehealth measures face Congress every year for even more coverage throughout the U.S. Right now, all Medicaid agencies cover at least some form of telehealth services. There’s also been an increase in employers offering telemedicine options. Since insurance companies are quickly learning that telemedicine can save them money, it will surely only be a matter of time before these options are fully covered in all 50 states, for a variety of treatment services.

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Patients and doctors alike will benefit from many of the upcoming developments in telemedicine.

Further acceptance

The more the public (and the government) is able to see the vast improvements in health care due to telemedicine, the more widespread the practice will be. A larger number of doctors and hospitals will rely on telemedicine to provide care, and it will be more common for people to use telemedicine options instead of visiting a physician or hospital in person. In the future, it’s likely that telemedicine will become an even more accepted and valued element of health care, becoming something that most people will depend upon when getting treatment. Patients are already all for using telemedicine – a recent study showed that more than 74% of people would be open to treatment through this method.

As a growing trend in health care, telemedicine will soon be more accepted and widely used in the future. As patients look for more accessible and convenient health care options, telemedicine is perhaps the best answer for better care and treatment.

What Are the Most Beneficial Aspects of Telemedicine in 2018?

During this year, many strides have been taken to implement more telemedicine services throughout the U.S. Patients have been more able to rely on remote options and video chats with physicians to help augment their treatment. They’ve also been receiving care for a wide variety of conditions and illnesses (with help from diagnosing the flu to developing a fast treatment plan during a stroke event). There are so many advantages to including telehealth options in a patient’s care, so here’s a look at some of the most beneficial aspects of using telemedicine in 2018.

More convenient care

One study notes that nearly 74% of Americans would be willing to use telemedicine services versus seeing their doctor in person. A huge benefit of telehealth is that patients have an easier time getting access to medical professionals. Using online tools like video chats, patients can connect with their physicians when it’s most convenient for them (instead of always having to work around the doctor’s schedule). Doctors are then able to have productive consultations with their patient without all the distractions an office can provide. These communications are more convenient because patients don’t have to wait until their next scheduled appointment if they have questions or concerns. Such convenience also permits patients to report any early warning signs about symptoms they might be worried about. This makes telemedicine a great option for encouraging individuals to maintain regular check-ins with their doctors, as well as supporting the careful monitoring of a patient’s condition or overall health.

Access to care for rural patients

Before the advent of telemedicine, patients who lived in remote or rural areas were often unable to get the proper care they needed. Many doctors or hospitals were just located too far from their residences. However, now telemedicine has created a way for patients to connect with doctors and specialists easily – as long as they have the Internet, they can access medical treatment. More access equals a greater chance of properly diagnosing and treating many serious conditions and creating more treatment parity for rural patients.

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Ease of access is one of the primary benefits of telemedicine in 2018.

More access to specialists

It used to be that many people were limited in their treatment options because of where they lived. Nowadays, telemedicine is able to connect patients with the appropriate physicians they need, no matter their location. This means there will be improvements in the care of people who didn’t have direct access to the proper specialists before. Patients with specific needs or with rare conditions now have the ability to communicate and work with medical professionals throughout the country. They’ll be receiving the best care possible, even if they don’t live near the specialist.

Quicker treatment options

Another huge benefit of telemedicine is that patients can access quicker care because of this technology. Many telehealth measures mean that physicians can diagnose and treat a patient in minutes (versus a long waiting time at the ER or to get in to see a doctor). This fast treatment can literally be lifesaving for critical conditions like strokes or heart attacks. Telemedicine also eliminates some of the red tape surrounding health care – treatment teams can more easily communicate and collaborate with each other in the patient’s best interests. Medical records and test results can also be sent quickly online and through databases, so there’s less waiting time during that stage of the patient’s care.

More streamlined care in doctor’s offices and ERs

If more people use telemedicine, the care patients receive during in-person visits will also improve. In fact, statistics from the American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America state that more than 75% of doctor, urgent care, and emergency room visits could actually be handled effectively through a phone or video chat. If patients with non-critical injuries or illnesses can be taken care of with video chats, that leaves the in-person visits for more serious or life-threatening cases. This change means that not only would patients receive more streamlined and quicker treatment when they actually go in person to a doctor’s office or an ER, but also that wait times for these places would be shortened. This results in patients getting faster, more efficient, and more effective treatment when they need it.

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In 2018, if you have a smartphone and an internet connection, all the benefits of telemedicine are available to you.

Lower costs for patients

A great advantage of telemedicine is that patients can save money by turning to telehealth options instead of in-person visits. These options can be cheaper because doctors don’t have to charge for office fees or other add-on costs. Patients can also save money on transportation costs they’d have to shell out if they needed to get to an office. Likewise, physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies have all seen decreases in their costs because of more patients using telemedicine to receive treatment.

With more patients using telemedicine, a new trend has emerged of patients being more involved in their care and more engaged with their own health care. This can lead to patients being more likely to opt out of harmful behaviors (like unhealthy eating or smoking), which can result in an overall improved healthiness. People who are leading healthier lifestyles will also end up lowering health care costs both for themselves and for the population at large. There are many beneficial aspects of telemedicine that are only continuing to make major improvements in the health care field.

Could Telemedicine Help Fight America’s Opioid Addiction?

The U.S. is currently facing a huge opioid epidemic that seems to only be growing worse with time. Nearly 115 people die from opioid-related overdoses every single day in the U.S., which actually makes it the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50. More than 97 million people have used prescription painkillers (like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl) in the last year, either because they were prescribed them by a physician or due to recreational street use. Two million of these people are considered dependent on opioids. If more serious steps aren’t taken to combat this trend, health experts estimate that over 500,000 people could die from opioid overdoses in the next 10 years.

As the nation is learning more about the rising abuse of opioids, the federal government has tried to take some action by pushing through stricter drug enforcement measures. There has also been a call for doctors to write fewer prescriptions for painkillers – thus, preventing opioid addiction before it can even get started. However, experts believe it will take at least a few years before these measures can have any type of true impact. So, what else can be done in the meantime?

It turns out telemedicine options can actually help combat the rising rates of opioid addiction. Several programs are launching around the country that bring together all types of medical professionals (physicians, nurses, social workers, etc.) to help gain important knowledge from addiction specialists and psychiatrists. The ECHO (Extension for Community Health Outcomes) program was established several months ago as part of the Office of Telemedicine/Telehealth at Virginia Commonwealth University’s VCU Health system. This program, funded by grant money from the Virginia Department of Health, works by holding sessions on connected platforms to help medical professionals learn and communicate with each other in a collaborative environment. Each of these sessions allows between 25 and 40 providers to participate in video sessions to get educated about current trends and treatments in the field of addiction treatment.

Dr. Vimal Mishra, the medical director and principal investigator for the program, says, “It’s a fantastic way of delivering health care in a learning environment. This is where the future of public health begins.”

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The key to reducing the opioid epidemic could lie within telemedicine.

One of the ways this type of telemedicine can be even more helpful is the fact that providers from rural or remote areas can participate and learn from the video sessions, no matter where they’re located. Providers can be up on the latest treatment options even if they live far from addiction specialists or treatment centers. These under-served rural areas are often where addiction treatment is needed the most.

ECHO focuses on educating providers on various treatment options, including Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT). MAT is a treatment plan that uses opioid treatment programs (OTPs) to combine both behavioral therapy and medications to help treat substance abuse disorders. This type of treatment helps providers view the patient as a whole, instead of treating various elements of the addiction. The use of medications (like methadone, naltrexone, and buprenorphine) work to block the effects of narcotics while reducing or preventing withdrawal symptoms.

Without the use of a program like ECHO, providers in remote areas would either have to learn about new treatment options like MAT through rare clinics held by larger health systems or state health officials. They would often have to convince these parties to travel to rural areas to offer training and education. This means that many areas still aren’t getting the support they need to effectively treat opioid addiction or to help stop the spread of the abuse of these medications.

It seems obvious that these telemedicine programs can be vital in fighting the U.S.’s opioid addiction. More education and communication with specialists would certainly give providers a better chance at treating addiction. Programs like ECHO mean that medical professionals can get access to essential information while fostering a wide community of support for treatment providers. Mishra states, “I feel like I’m learning something not only from the expert who’s sitting beside me, but also from the community. We’re all learning together. This is value-based care.”

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Opioid education programs delivered via telemedicine could play a huge role in decreasing this problem in the U.S.

However, these programs are still facing some uphill battles in terms of wider support and funding. Because these telemedicine options aren’t provider-to-patient care, but are rather a provider-to-provider system, some companies don’t see the immediate financial benefits of setting up the programs. But, on the other hand, the opioid epidemic is creating a huge impact on the U.S. economy. A study from 2016 stated that opioid overdoses, abuse, and dependence have cost the economy around $78.5 billion. However, the White House stated in late 2017 that the opioid epidemic has cost the U.S. closer to an estimated $504 billion, meaning that the crisis is not only having a huge impact on the nation’s health but also a detrimental effect on its economy.

Mishra suggests that the financiers considering supporting programs like ECHO take a different look at the formula. “It’s not a return on investment, but a return on public health,” he says. “It’s not hard money you’re looking for. It’s about how many people you’re treating in the communities, by their own primary care providers, rather than transferring them to other facilities.”

Mishra brings up a valid point with this. If patients are able to stay in their remote towns and still receive medical care from their own providers, they might be more likely to kick their addiction. Having to travel to bigger cities or meet with new specialists can create an environment that is less conducive to recovery for opioid addicts. Bringing the very best treatment options to rural communities could increase the chance that patients are able to stick to their recovery and avoid relapses.

It’s a fact that programs like ECHO can benefit those seeking treatment from addiction by providing medical professionals with updated and accurate information. Imagine how much it would help the country if even more providers were able to offer better treatment options for individuals, regardless of where they live. It’s obvious that more steps need to be taken to help fight the nation’s opioid addiction, and telemedicine just might be the solution to this frightening epidemic.

How Telemedicine is Changing the Treatment of Strokes

Telemedicine continues to improve the world of health care. Now, with the use of technology, people can get better access to treatment for a wide variety of conditions. One of the areas in which telemedicine has been the most successful is the diagnosis and treatment of strokes. In the U.S., strokes are the third leading cause of death, with a stroke patient dying every three minutes. Strokes happen to more than 700,000 patients every year, leaving many with permanent disabilities. Many individuals face a loss of employment or significant changes to their lifestyle. Read on for how these health care measures are helping to change how the U.S. treats strokes.

A stroke, sometimes called a “brain attack,” happens when blood flow is cut off to an area in the brain. When these brain cells are deprived of necessary oxygen and glucose, the cells end up dying. There are two types of strokes: an ischemic stroke, which occurs when clots form in the brain’s blood vessels. The clots can also form in blood vessels elsewhere in the body that then travel to the brain. These clots block blood flow. Around 80% of strokes are ischemic. The second type of stroke is hemorrhagic when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. Blood ends up seeping into the brain tissue, which results in damage to the brain cells. This type of stroke can be the result of high blood pressure or brain aneurysms.

The symptoms of a stroke include weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body, loss of vision in one or both eyes, loss of speech, difficulty talking or understanding other people, sudden severe headaches, or loss of balance or unstable walking. If stroke patients don’t receive an immediate diagnosis and treatment, there could be permanent brain damage. In more serious cases, death of the patient can occur. Therefore, time is the most important aspect of treatment – the sooner a patient is diagnosed and treated, the better their prognosis will be. Some patients can stave off disabilities caused by strokes if they are given the FDA-approved medication tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) within the first three hours of the stroke occurring.

Divan Medical - doctor with clipboard

Thanks to telemedicine, stroke patients are receiving faster, more effective diagnosis and treatment.

Telemedicine is changing the treatment of strokes by implementing programs called telestroke. These programs are run by doctors (usually neurologists) who are able to remotely evaluate stroke victims through digital video cameras, web communications, and robotic telepresence. These doctors work to quickly diagnose the stroke patient and come up with a treatment plan that can best serve the individual – all without needing to physically examine the patient. The telestroke system generally has three elements to it: a brain imaging review, a remote examination, and a web portal for synchronized requirements. Doctors can download and view brain scans from any location to help determine the best course of action for a particular patient. The remote examination is done with video conferencing, where physicians can perform the evaluations to determine the cause and severity of the stroke. This allows them to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan that can be transferred to whichever hospital or facility the patient is taken to. All of this data obtained from the telestroke program is available through a web portal that lets a team of doctors share valuable information about the patient.

In an interview with Medscape, Dr. Lawrence R. Wechsler, chairman of the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association, stated that some of the telestroke systems “have CT scans in the ambulance and can give tPA right there and then. Others just use an iPad in the ambulance to connect to the stroke expert.”

One of the biggest ways telestroke can help patients is by assisting individuals who live in remote areas. A recent study estimates that three out of every four counties in the U.S. lack a nearby hospital that has the neurological services needed to effectively treat stroke patients. Telemedicine can therefore provide the very best neurologists on hand to stroke patients – no matter where they live. Thus, people living in rural areas can still access the very best health care options and are much more likely to have a strong chance of recovery.

Divan Medical - pharmacist

Advances in stroke diagnosis and care are just one of the myriad benefits of telemedicine.

There’s a growing amount of evidence that demonstrates telestroke measures have been effective in treating stroke patients. Back in 2016, Kaiser Permanente released a study showing that of more than 2,500 people diagnosed with ischemic strokes, there was an almost 75% increase in the timely use of the drug tPA after the patients received a telestroke consult. With telestroke care, patients were also able to get a diagnostic imaging test 12 minutes sooner, while drugs were administered 11 minutes sooner, reducing overall initial treatment times to less than an hour. The study noted, “Particularly in hospitals with limited resources and/or limited access to neurologic expertise, telestroke is an important tool to aid in the evaluation and treatment of potential stroke… Telestroke may aid in triage and transfer decisions and in identifying patients potentially eligible for endovascular intervention or patients who might otherwise benefit from transfer to a stroke center.”

Bottom line: telestroke programs allow stroke patients to have quicker and more in-depth evaluations that can be truly life-saving. Without telestroke measures, many patients would face waiting longer periods of time between the stroke event and making it to the hospital where they can meet with a physician. With instant diagnostic tests and communication with physicians, stroke patients have a much better shot at making a full recovery because of these vital telestroke programs.

How Telemedicine Can Help You Care for Your Pet

With advancements in technology, gone are the days when you would need to rush to the doctor anytime you had a medical question or concern. Today, you can video chat with your physician from the comfort of your home – saving you lots of time (and money!). So, why should telemedicine only work for humans? In fact, using telehealth measures to help care for your pet is starting to get even easier. There are several companies that are changing the game by introducing veterinary telemedicine services to pet owners. Interested in finding out how to help better care for your furry friend with telemedicine? Read on for more info!

Anytime your pet starts showing symptoms – whether it’s limping from a fall or vomiting after eating something they shouldn’t have – you’re left wondering if you should pack them up in the car and head straight to your vet’s office. Some animals can get extremely agitated when they have to be transported in a carrier or take a ride in the car, so even getting them to the office can be a hassle. If you live in a rural area, the aspect of traveling to a nearby vet’s office can be even more challenging. Then, once you’re at the office, you’ll likely spend quite a bit of time in the waiting room. After meeting with your vet, you’re probably going to face having to pay an expensive bill (whether your pet needed much treatment or not). Needless to say, the whole experience can end up making you feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

Divan Medical - woman using smartphone

Who said the conveniences of telemedicine can only be enjoyed by humans?! Pet care is the newest entry to the realm of telemedicine.

Luckily, there are several companies who are starting to revolutionize how you can get help from a vet. If you live in the San Francisco Bay area in California, you can get access to Fuzzy Pet Health Connect, a telemedicine service that works with a smartphone app to give you access to an on-demand vet 24/7. It works by letting you send text, pictures, and videos to a licensed vet at any time. They’ll respond in real-time with detailed instructions and advice on how to care for your pet and their particular problem. They’ll also advise you if they think your pet should visit an in-person vet for the best treatment. Even if you have questions that are not medical, Fuzzy Pet Health can help by offering advice on behavior or training issues too. The best part is that it’s only $10 a month!

In an interview with TechCrunch, Fuzzy Pet Health co-founder Eric Palm says that this kind of on-demand help can allow for pet owners’ questions to be answered quickly, without needing to visit a vet in person. “It turns out that 80 percent of the time when people think there’s an emergency issue, it’s not actually critical. We can triage – we can share pictures and videos, and that’s really helpful.”

But these plans aren’t just for medical emergencies. They also include an annual supply of flea, tick, and heartworm preventative medications and core vaccines. You can even get diagnostics for heartworm and fecal testing every six months and microchipping for your pet. One of the plans even includes two wellness checkups that are conducted in your home! If your pet is older or has chronic conditions, one plan option offers blood panels every six months and a cold laser therapy treatment, so no matter what your pet needs, they’ll be taken care of.

Divan Medical - woman with ESA cat

Thanks to telemedicine, concerns you would once have made a vet trip to get checked out can now be dealt with from your home.

Fuzzy Pet Health is seeing great results with the service. Co-founder and lead vet Dr. Robert Trimble said in a statement, “The average pet parent goes to the vet only 1.6 times a year, while our members get in touch with us roughly once a month. We’re excited to expand telemedicine across the country, and provide pet parents the peace of mind and education that come with easy and unlimited access to high-quality care.” While the service isn’t widely available yet, the company is thinking of expanding to other major cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

There are other companies, like Petriage, that also use a mobile app to give pet owners direct access to expert vet advice. If you have a good working relationship with your vet, there are sites like Televet that offer direct communication with the vet your pet is already seeing.

Telemedicine for pets is pretty new, and there’s definitely room to grow. At this time, there are laws in most states that say that telehealth vet services can’t diagnose or prescribe medications without in-person vet visits. There aren’t these types of laws for human health care, so hopefully, lawmakers will see how helpful and convenient these services are and do away with these restrictions. Palm says that there is progress already being made. “Each state has its own Veterinary Medical Board, and there are active discussions on most of these boards on how to relax the rules around telemedicine,” Palm states.

So, as these services grow more popular, you’ll be able to take care of most of your vet business through convenient, time and money-saving mobile apps and video chats, no matter where you’re living.

8 Reasons Why Telemedicine Should Go Mainstream

There is a clear solution to helping the U.S. population become healthier. With advancements in technology, telemedicine is quickly becoming the answer for more accessible care, cheaper costs, and more effective treatments. There are countless reasons why telemedicine can help with patient care, and even more why these options could benefit the public at large by going mainstream.

Congress passed a federal budget earlier this year that allows for a major expansion of telemedicine benefits for Medicare patients (including those with chronic conditions). Hopefully, this will encourage further steps in the future that support telemedicine measures. Increased access to telemedicine options means that doctors can better treat their patients with a variety of conditions, including diabetes, obstetrics, behavioral health issues, and more. Here’s a look at the reasons why it’s crucial for telemedicine to be made even more available to U.S. citizens.

Divan - woman using smartphone

Bringing telemedicine to the mainstream could have many benefits for health care in the U.S.

1. Better access to health care, regardless of location

Before the advent of telemedicine, patients were forced to limit their care to their local doctors. Those who lived in rural areas were often unable to receive proper care simply because of their location. However, with telemedicine options (which include remote video chats with physicians), all patients can have access to the treatment they need, without having to worry about getting themselves to a distant doctor’s office or hospital. Telemedicine can help ensure that every individual has access to health care, no matter where they’re living.

2. More access to specialists

In recent years, telemedicine options have started to allow patients to get opinions from specialists in any location (no matter how far from the patient’s residence). Treatment options are no longer relegated to whichever doctor is closest. This is an especially great benefit for people who live in remote areas or who have rare conditions that cannot be treated by local physicians. The best possible specialist to help with treatment is now always available through telemedicine communications.

3. Lowered health care costs

Telemedicine options are often cheaper for patients because doctors don’t have to charge for office fees, and patients don’t have to pay for transportation to get to an office. Additionally, aside from patient costs, telemedicine can also lower health care costs in general, which can help make health care more affordable for everyone.

Divan - Patient with Flu

Getting treatment during flu season could be made much easier through telemedicine.

4. Better care during flu season

The past several years have seen pretty serious flu outbreaks in the U.S. Telemedicine can help provide better care by allowing for ill patients to connect with physicians from their homes (through their smartphones, tablets, or computers). Some drugstores even provide kiosks that can connect patients with medical help without them having to go to a hospital. Instead of filling up emergency rooms (and risking infecting more people), patients can be treated without having to leave their homes.

5. Increased access to eye health options

Many health care companies are using telemedicine to help provide better access to eye doctors. The NewYork-Presbyterian company provides a tele-ophthalmology mobile unit that travels around some of New York City’s less served neighborhoods. Medical staff, equipped with state-of-the-art imaging devices, are able to provide screenings for eye diseases and vision issues to a variety of individuals. Patients are then able to chat in real-time with an ophthalmologist through a video screen. These types of programs can help individuals get proper eye care, which they might not otherwise have access to.

6. More tools to fight strokes

Telemedicine can also help to better diagnose and treat strokes. In order to stave off lifelong disability or death, strokes must be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible. There are companies like NewYork-Presbyterian with Telestroke Initiatives that connect specialists immediately to patients through live videoconferencing. The initiative also works to have brain scans taken from the ambulances, which are then delivered digitally to the specialists at the hospital. This helps to get the patient started on the right protocol immediately, which could be extremely valuable to a stroke patient. If other companies instituted initiatives like this one, many more patients could benefit.

Divan - blood pressure

In-person doctor’s visits will always exist, but telemedicine can help take some of the pressure off for both doctors and patients.

7. Spend less time waiting

Instead of spending tons of time in a doctor’s office waiting room or the lobby of a hospital, telemedicine options allow patients to set up appointments directly with a physician (which means no waiting time). Some programs are setting up options within hospitals’ emergency departments, where patients can consult with a doctor through a video chat – this can result in a decrease in waiting from two to three hours to 35 to 40 minutes.

8. Less crowded ERs

With more people using telemedicine options, emergency rooms will be less crowded (and your wait time at an ER will be much shorter). People who would normally head to the ER can instead consult a physician from their home. This means that people who come to the hospital with life-threatening or very serious injuries or illnesses won’t have to wait as long and can get treated much more quickly.

All of these reasons lead to the conclusion that telemedicine not only benefits the individual patient, but also the country’s health care as a whole. Although there will still always be a need for in-person doctor’s visits, telemedicine options can help revolutionize and improve our health care system.

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