In the age of technology, the medical field is harnessing an innovative tool for healthcare called telehealth, which provides long distance clinician-to-patient health care, health education and health administration. Communication is made possible through videoconferencing, pictures, streaming media and wireless alternatives. The easy access would to medical information should be a viable option for many individuals in the country, especially for rural providers and patients.
Let’s start with where telehealth is present -- home-based, community centers, office-based, and hospital-based telemedicine. In 2012, the American Telemedicine Association reported an average of 10 million Americans used telehealth services a year and only 250,000 used telemedicine services. Many of these patients were unaware that they are utilizing telehealth because of it’s vast scope. Ten million may seem to be a big number, but there are 90 million individuals that are in managed health care systems. Only one-ninth of the population’s registered health care members use telemedicine, and this does not even include the individuals that have no health insurance.
Even though people do not videoconference with their doctors, patients are still are exposed to other facets of the field. Anyone who has visited online health support groups, used self-management tools, ordered medication online, or filed electronic health records has used telehealth.
One big obstacle for the telehealth field faces has to do with health insurance coverage and restrictions. Insurance companies and Medicaid are worried that providers will abuse and overutilize this tool and drive up the costs. A big factor for this tension is the misconception and lack of proper education on telemedicine. Many internet companies are buying into this field and expecting a great financial outcome without proper knowledge of what telemedicine is and has to offer.
But slowly, there are more physicians that are supporting telehealth. Medical associations are advocating and licensing physicians to work in the telehealth field and provide quality care, as many patients that do not require constant visits to the doctor’s office and can discuss their prognosis through telehealth, which lowers medical costs for individuals and insurance companies.
According to the an analytics firm IHS, telehealth will grow from $240 million to $1.9 billion in 2018.
“Telehealth is about increasing the quality of healthcare, in an efficient way," said Roeen Roashan, IHS Analyst for Consumer Medical Devices and Digital Health. "Telehealth is proven to decrease readmission rates significantly, while increasing the patient’s perception of quality by keeping the patient at home.”
Let’s hope that health insurance companies, including Medicaid, Medicare, and the VA benefits, start to see the positive points of telehealth and incorporate it into their policies.