You might be forgiven for thinking that telemedicine is a relatively new innovation. In fact, it’s been around for many years now, albeit in a fairly rudimentary form in the early days. With an ever-growing and increasing amount of technology at our fingertips, advances in telemedicine have been particularly great over the last decade or more. It’s important to remember that telemedicine is not making these advances solely because it can make these advances, in other words just to take advantage of modern technology – it’s making these advances because there is an increasing demand, largely due to the benefits of telemedicine that have been so far demonstrated.
There are several reasons for this. Firstly, people living in remote parts of the States need better and quicker access to medical help and advice. Secondly, the ever-increasing cost of medicine is not only crippling some of our medical centers, but also making it difficult for some folk to afford treatment or health insurance. Finally, there’s that all-important commodity of which none of us seem to have enough… Time! As a patient, it’s time spent making appointments, waiting for appointments, waiting in a doctor’s office, waiting for results, waiting to speak to your specialist… You get the picture: it’s a waiting game! For the medical professionals it’s time spent visiting patients, waiting for input from other professionals, waiting for test results and scans to be sent, carrying out procedures and surgery, and so on.
Telemedicine is being adopted by more and more health care systems in more and more states. There are (aren’t there always?!) a few legalities to be sorted out, but in time it will become even more widespread and multi-faceted. Given our physician shortage, this can only be a good thing. So let’s look at the benefits of telemedicine and the ways it could save you time and money.
The first thing, obviously, is travel time. If you’re able to have a video appointment with your doctor via a smartphone or laptop from the comfort of your own home, there’s no travel time. Imagine that! In some of our rural areas, patients literally have to travel for hours to see a physician, and some patients who are less mobile might find traveling a struggle – so of course the reduced need for travel is one of the most important benefits of telemedicine.
With no travel time, there is no travel expense. So you’ll also save the cost of gas for your car or public transport charges.
You might have to take unpaid time off work to see your doctor. Another of the many benefits of telemedicine is that many physicians offer video appointments outside of normal 9–5 working hours, so if you can take advantage of this, then there’s no loss of work time. In addition to this benefit, you’re also likely to be “seen” quicker via a video call, therefore treated quicker and back to normal more quickly, with the net result being less time off work.
If you’re waiting for a physical appointment, your illness or condition could worsen. So the quicker you’re seen, the less medication you might need or perhaps the less assistance you might need – either for yourself or in terms of child care.
A current trend in America is for more and more patients to bowl up at an ER with a minor complaint, because the wait to see their physician is just too long. Imagine if, instead of going to the ER with one of these said minor conditions, you were able to get a speedy video appointment. This would free up the ER for real emergencies, which would lead to a reduction in overall costs, eventually resulting (we hope) in lower charges to you, the patient.
With telemedicine making the exchange of data and of opinions between medical experts much easier and quicker, again this will ultimately reduce costs and therefore charges. It could also save you, the patient, valuable time in the diagnosis and treatment of your condition. Imagine a scenario where you have to have various scans, X-rays, etc., all of which need to be looked at and discussed by more than one specialist. Telemedicine allows each of these specialists to receive a copy of all of your procedures electronically, and then to have a video consultation to discuss your condition and treatment. Time and money saved.
Of course, it’s fair to point out that not all illnesses or conditions are possible to deal with remotely. Telemedicine is excellent for psychiatric illnesses and for physical conditions relating to endocrinology, for example, but obviously a video appointment wouldn’t work where an actual physical examination is needed. Telepsychiatry is one area which is definitely on the increase and with an escalation in virtual doctor visits in general; telehealth companies are saying that we will all see benefits and monetary savings.
Telemedicine platforms – a software system – give physicians a secure and well-organized way of practicing medicine remotely. They can keep track of their patients’ health and care more easily; share records and data with other specialists; give out e-prescriptions anytime, anyplace; document all remote patient visits; and send out bills and receive payment electronically by both patients and insurance companies. All of this saves everyone – patients and specialists alike – time and money, and with ongoing developments and advances, the patient can only hope to experience more and more benefits of telemedicine.