Telemedicine, also referred to as Virtual Healthcare, is the application of medicine using technology to deliver care. Usually, a physician or medical professional will use a telecommunications infrastructure to deliver care to a patient who is either at home or somewhere separate from the physician.
Telemedicine is a tool which makes healthcare more accessible, cost-effective and increases patient engagement. It made a debut in the later 1950’s, however as technology advances so does the practise of telemedicine. Additionally, patients residing in more rural areas that previously experienced issues accessing a healthcare professional, can now reach them virtually.
Information can be shared in real time over any distance from one computer screen to another, and readings from medical devices at faraway locations can also be captured. Patients using telemedicine software can see doctor’s for diagnosis and treatment from the comfort of their home, minus the usual required wait for an appointment.
There are 3 common types of Telemedicine:
- Interactive Medicine: this allows patients and physicians to communicate in real-time while maintaining HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) compliance
- Store and Forward: this permits providers to share patient information with a practitioner in another location
- Remote Patient Monitoring: this allows remote caregivers to monitor patients that reside at home by using mobile medical devices to collect data (e.g. blood sugar or blood pressure)
How Does Telemedicine Work?
The process of implementing telemedicine into a practise can either be simple or complex – for simple/solo practitioners and clinics, most only require basic HIPAA compliant video conference software to deliver patient consultations, for example.
For more complex practitioners and clinics, their existing workflow would need to be considered and specific telemedicine software would need to be incorporated as a basic standard. This software would be waiting rooms, EHR and payment functions.
Telemedicine is conducted in a number of ways, the most basic being a video/Skype call, however most clinics and physicians use secure HIPAA compliant video conference tools. Company VSee is an example of software that can provide this kind of basic and secure solution.
Portable kits including computer and mobile medical devices, such as ECG’s or vital sign monitors. High resolution digital cameras are also available for physicians to send detailed medical images to specialists, and software that allows everything from storing data to live video conferencing is also usually implemented.
Isn’t it the same as Telehealth? No – while they do sound similar in definition, Telehealth and Telemedicine are different things.
Telemedicine is referred to by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “healing from a distance”. It’s the use of technology and information technology to provide remote clinical care and services to patients. Healthcare providers use telemedicine for the transmission of digital imaging, video consultations and remote medical diagnosis.
Telehealth is the use of electronic information to support and promote long-distance clinical care, patient and professional health education, public health and health administration. The difference between Telemedicine and Telehealth is that Telehealth also covers non-clinical events such as admin meetings, continuing medical education and physician training – unlike Telemedicine.
How Do I Access Telemedicine Through My Health Insurance?
As previously mentioned, Telemedicine is the implementation of software applications and technology that help healthcare professionals provide clinical care to their customers.
Speaking in terms of accessing telemedicine, as long as a patient has a smartphone or device in which they can electronically communicate, they are accessing Telemedicine.
If a patient wants to directly access Telemedicine through health insurance, it would have to be up to the patient’s insurance company to provide this. The health insurance company would need to have secure HIPAA compliant video conference tools (see example previously provided); so that they can communicate with patients and do things like have virtual appointments, consultations etc.
The demand from a new generation of an emerging tech savvy population has now made it a matter of time for healthcare systems, medical groups, healthcare providers and solo practitioners to apply Telemedicine as part of their medical service.