Forget about bedside manner. How is your physician candidate’s website manner? Yes, we’re talking about the widespread adoption of telemedicine – talking to your doctor via video chat or webcam – and it’s no longer the stuff of science fiction, it’s gone mainstream. In fact, many advocates are saying telemedicine is on par with a trip to the doctor’s office.
This comes as no surprise to physician recruiters. The aging population and rising healthcare costs are propelling the technology, and while It appears telecom advances have piqued the interest in telemedicine it has actually been around since the 1960s. When astronauts first went into space, NASA built telemedicine into early spacecraft and spacesuits to monitor the physiological parameters of the astronauts. Yes, for over 50 years, NASA’s work in telemetry, remote communications, and the life sciences has led to unprecedented advances in the fields of both space and rural medicine.
Spearheading policy change for telemedicine
Multiple barriers to telemedicine exist, but the most prohibitive are the regulatory policies at the state level. Telehealth company Teladoc, Inc., which now operates in almost every state, is spearheading the policy charge for telemedicine, fighting to hold state board members individually accountable/open to suit for not allowing telemedicine to enter a state or making it "unnecessarily difficult". Dr. Henry DePhillips, chief medical officer of Teledoc, described his company’s view of how telemedicine can fill in some of the gaps in the health care system, particularly for the 65 million people who live in “primary care deserts,” and have trouble accessing behavioral health care or those who go to the emergency room unnecessarily. DePhillips says telemedicine can provide an alternative to a delivery system that pushes people to high cost settings. Telemedicine gives patients (and family caregivers) affordable, convenient access to care, and enables the patient to control his or her information.
Telemedicine Practice Guidelines
The American Telemedicine Association has completed Practice Guidelines for telemedicine, which they say are the critical foundation for the deployment of telemedicine services. Practice guidelines form the basis for uniform, quality patient care and safety, grounded in empirical research and clinical experience. The establishment of such guidance also accelerates the adoption of telemedicine by payers, administrators and providers who are full partners with ATA in their development along with industry, government agencies, medical societies and other stakeholders.
A distinction that’s important to note: telemedicine is a tool used to practice medicine, NOT the practice of medicine itself. That’s among the many reasons the American Medical Association (AMA) has also adopted a set of ethical guidelines for telemedicine that say physicians working with telemedicine vendors should, among other things:
- Inform users about the limitations of services provided
- Advise users how to arrange for follow-up care
- Encourage users to inform their primary care doctor when they engage online with a telehealth provider
- Advocate for policies and initiatives to promote access to telehealth/telemedicine services for all patients who could benefit from receiving care electronically
Dr. Jack Resneck, an AMA board member and dermatologist from San Rafael, California, says, “The new AMA ethical guidance notes that while new technologies and new models of care will continue to emerge, physicians’ fundamental ethical responsibilities do not change.”
Is telemedicine as easy as pointing a web cam at a doctor?
When you’re not meeting face-to-face, things like eye contact and attentive listening become more important to the overall experience. But one insurance provider, UnitedHealthcare, is putting telemedicine on par with a trip to the doctor’s office, effectively saying a video visit is as good as brick-and-mortar check-up. In fact, the largest health insurer in the US says it will cover video doctors’ visits just as it covers in-person exams.
In late 2015, we interviewed Charles Butler, MD, the founder of VideoMedicine, Inc., who uses Doximity Talent Finder to recruit doctors for the VideoMedicine team. He says he imagines video chatting with his ophthalmologist, his cardiologist, and his dermatologist – and he’s made it a reality for countless patients and physicians. Dr. Butler says, “The VideoMedicine app lets patients connect with medical specialists via an innovative face-to-face video chat app. It’s the world's first mobile, free-market doctor network.”
Telemedicine isn’t new, but it has been getting increasing attention – in part because availability and affordability of health-related services remains a growing issue among physicians. By all reports, telemedicine and mobile health are driving costs down and improving the quality of healthcare around the world. Patients are also being encouraged to take more responsibility for their own care – and technology is bringing the change.
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