A Look at Telemedicine and Physician Access

dg-telemedicine-blog2In a world of increased convenience, you can do your taxes online, you can get breaking news online and you can make reservations for your favorite restaurant online. In recent years, healthcare has followed suit with online resources and digital mechanisms to make your well-being easier to track and medical treatment more convenient to access.

One particular revolution in the digital health space is the use of telemedicine (TM), the remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information through telecommunications technologies like internet, satellite, telephone and wireless media1. Also referred to as telehealth, telemedicine is growing rapidly as a viable component of care in the United States, with approximately 200 TM networks and around 3,500 U.S. service sites1. Indeed, over half of all U.S. hospitals now use some form of telemedicine1, and thanks to mobile apps, millions of patients around the world use TM to monitor vital signs, maintain a healthy lifestyle and, ultimately, stay out of the emergency room.

Arguably the most groundbreaking telemedicine service is the use of technology as a substitute to the physician’s office, where patients can call, Skype or Facetime with a physician to get a diagnosis for mild maladies like the common cold, flu or virus. The result is increased access with minimized inconvenience to the patient, eliminating travel and time spent in the waiting room.

dg-telemedicine-blogIt’s an offering with tremendous potential, and we’ve seen a drastic change in the way telemedicine is presented to the public. To increase telemedicine proficiency around the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced $16 million in grants to improve telecommunications equipment in 25 states to allow physicians in smaller hospital groups and in rural areas access to telemedicine services2. On Sept. 19, the organization funded 18 distance learning and telemedicine projects in 16 states to continue expanding access3. The American Medical Association (AMA) recently approved new ethical guidelines for TM to boost not only its standards and value, but also its potential. The guidelines insist doctors executing TM understand and abide by its confines and ensure they have sufficient information to make any remote diagnosis or recommendation4. Additionally, experts say more hospitals are likely to invest in telemedicine systems as they move away from fee-for-service payments and into managed-care style contracts, which offer a set fee to provide care for patients and hospitals to keep any savings achieved4.

Actions like these have legitimized telemedicine and brought it to the forefront as a viable option for care, and there’s incredible value in the convenience and efficiency telemedicine can bring to patients on a day-to-day basis. That’s why, at Diversified Group, we recommend firms such as Teladoc, to enable patients to use video or the telephone to consult with a doctor anytime – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – and obtain a diagnosis, determine a treatment plan or get a prescription. Patients can be connected with a physician in as little as two minutes, and doctors working with Teladoc use more than 100 guidelines developed specifically for delivering care remotely4.

As these trends continue and individuals become more and more comfortable with telemedicine, some may forego the search for an in-network primary care physician. While we believe strongly in telemedicine at Diversified Group, we are also aware of its limitations. As such, we work very closely with our self-funded employer group clients to achieve an appropriate balance of provider access and cost control. After decades of experience, we know it is always critically important to think through the potential impact of cost control measures, including telemedicine and provider access. As always, feel free to contact us to discuss these options or for help in determining what is best for your covered group.

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Sources

    1. “Telemedicine Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).” Telemedicine FAQs. American Telemedicine Association, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    2. Gregg, Helen. “USDA Investment in Rural Telecommunications Aims to Boost Telemedicine Efforts.” USDA Investment in Rural Telecommunications Aims to Boost Telemedicine Efforts. Becker’s Hospital Review, 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    3. “News Release.” USDA Funds 18 Distance Learning and Telemedicine Projects in 16 States. United States Department of Agriculture, 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    4. Beck, Melinda. “How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care.” WSJ. Wsj.com, 26 June 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    5. Frakt, Austin. “You Mean I Don’t Have to Show Up? The Promise of Telemedicine.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 May 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.
    6. 10, 2016 By KATHERINE IGOEMay. “Telemedicine Use Increases among Rural Medicare Beneficiaries.” HMS. Harvard Medical School, 10 May 2016. Web. 20 Sept. 2016.

 

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