How Telemedicine is Being Leveraged to Improve Access for Patients
One of the biggest problems facing the healthcare community now is a lack of access for patients. A sick patient in, say, the New York Metropolitan area, may have hundreds of options to choose from when it comes to physicians, hospitals, and clinics—but may find that they’re all already packed to the brim with clients. Rural patients often find themselves forced to drive hours—and in some instances, days—to their closest healthcare provider. Additionally, there are homebound patients and those with rigid work schedules who may deem getting to a doctor’s physical office an impossible task.
Luckily, telemedicine is aiding providers to reach these patients without either party having to make a 100-plus mile trek or wreck their carefully crafted schedule.
Telemedicine Improves Access in a Number of Ways
While the most common image of telemedicine is a patient speaking to a physician via computer screen, other forms of telehealth include:
Live (synchronous) videoconferencing: a two-way audiovisual link between a patient and a care provider.
Store-and-forward (asynchronous) videoconferencing: transmission of a recorded health history to a health practitioner—usually a specialist.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM): the use of connected electronic tools to record personal health and medical data in one location for review by a provider in another location, usually at a different time.
Mobile health (mHealth): healthcare and public health information provided through mobile devices. The information may include general educational information, targeted texts, and notifications about disease outbreaks.
But how exactly are these services improving access to healthcare?
Many specialties become available to a wider net of patients thanks to telemedicine’s reach. These specialties range from radiology to psychiatry, oncology to obstetrics. This increased rate of access has already had a direct hand in the development of numerous programs for a variety of communities. Examples include:
Chronic care management interventions: Which relies on telemedicine to provide patients with integrated care during their primary care visits. The TeleTEAM Care for Diabetes Program, for instance, offers the services of behavioral therapists, clinical pharmacists, and medical diabetologists.
Emergency care: Patients have access to specialists in real time, where they can provide evaluations to local providers for emergency care.
Home monitoring: These services allow patients to remain in their homes while managing their treatments—at least between medical visits.
Intensive care units (ICU): For critically ill patients, ICUs powered by telemedicine provide round the clock monitoring by specialists and critical care nurses, while the patient can remain in the comfort of their own home.
Long-term care: These services bring specialized healthcare to elderly populations who live in long-term care facilities that are inaccessible due to their rural location.
Online therapy and remote counseling: Provides tangible links between urban behavioral health and mental health counseling to rural residents.
All of these services provide access and higher levels of care to patients who may not have been able to receive such services without the advancement of telemedicine. This level of access is something providers should consider adding to their practice’s repertoire—more than 74 percent of patients prefer easy access to healthcare services over in-person interactions with providers.