Telemedicine – How Does it Work and How to Implement Properly in Your Businessblog
Over the last two decades, the way medical services are provided has undergone radical changes. With advances in internet speeds around the world, along with the advent of the smartphone and mobile applications, many new ways of treating patients have become possible. While doctors and medical practices have used technology for years in their own research, telemedicine has helped transition the typical consultation to a new format.
In 2019, the value of telemedicine globally was estimated to be close to 45 billion dollars. This market is growing at an exponential rate however, and by 2026, is expected to exceed 175 billion dollars.
Telemedicine is known by a couple of different names and might be referred to as telehealth, digital medicine, or even e-health. Telemedicine, in itself, is a broad term that covers the use of technology in terms of communication between a patient and their medical provider. This communication can be through a variety of different channels and can include phone and video calls, emails, text messages, and even chat. A more clinical definition of telemedicine is the “remote delivery of healthcare services.”
Medical clinics and practitioners need to understand that this technology is essential for their patients. As a business, they need to offer this service if they wish to grow and thrive. Fortunately, outsourcing companies are able to take on the bulk of the work required. Finding the right company is essential, though, as they need to understand the healthcare market and the requirements behind patient confidentiality, security, and privacy.
How Telemedicine Works
When thinking about telemedicine, there are two primary methods of deployment in use currently.
Possibly the most popular method of deploying telemedicine, patient portals use a username and password to grant access. They are a secured means of confidentially gaining access to patient information. With patient portals, patients can communicate with their healthcare professionals to ask questions, set up appointments, and get prescriptions refilled. They are also a place where medical records, like tab tests and x-rays, can be shared and stored.
Patient portals need to be designed with patient confidentiality and security in mind. For healthcare organizations that lack these skills in house, a skilled outsourcer could be the solution. It is crucial to select an outsourcer that has experience in this area and understands specific industry regulations like HIPAA and others.
Another form of telemedicine that is rapidly gaining popularity is the use of virtual appointments. This type of meeting uses teleconsultation and lets you and your doctor speak through a phone or video conference. By removing the requirement for an in-office consultation, patients can be seen faster and do not have to wait.
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Benefits of Telemedicine
There are many different benefits that both patients and healthcare providers can receive through the use of telemedicine. From a patient’s point of view, a significant benefit includes time-saving. Patients are not forced to take time away from work or travel to and from offices to have an appointment. This indirectly benefits childcare and eldercare responsibilities also as additional resources do not need to be involved. Perhaps most importantly in today’s climate, a reduction of in-person appointments, means less exposure to other potentially sick and contagious individuals.
The benefits are not just with the patient though. Telemedicine also benefits healthcare institutions and lets them improve their efficiencies. This helps drive more revenue through the business. Telemedicine automates reminders which ensures that there are less missed appointments and helps drive an improved patient communication plan.
Applying Telemedicine in Your Organization
Medical offices have a variety of ways in which they can apply telemedicine to their operations. Some of these methods include the following:
- Follow Up Visits: telemedicine improves and automates reminders to patients about regular appointments and scheduled visits. This automation can include text and email and helps reduce missed appointments.
- Remote Disease Management: some diseases like Diabetes and other chronic illnesses can be tracked and monitored through telemedicine. These capabilities lets patients own their healthcare plan and helps drive improved health outcomes.
- Remote Post Hospitalization: telemedicine lets healthcare professionals remotely monitor and diagnose key health indicators. By understanding these indicators and how they are trending, doctors can remotely decide whether a patient should be readmitted or even whether medication should be changed.
- Preventative Care Support: good health is about more than just medicine. Preventative health like weight loss and smoking cessation programs have a direct benefit on heart disease and cancer.
- School-Based Telehealth: telemedicine is not restricted to patients and healthcare providers only. Some school districts have embraced the technology and teamed up with local doctors to conduct remote visits. Based on the symptoms analyzed and the overall urgency, these doctors are able to advise parents about the correct next steps in terms of treatment.
The Three Different Types of Telemedicine
When discussing telemedicine, there are three main types that are understood in the industry. These three types are remote monitoring (telemonitoring), real-time interactive services (teleconsultation), and store-and-forward. Within healthcare, they each have a specific role to play and, when used in the right way, can benefit patients and healthcare professionals alike.
Remote Monitoring (Telemonitoring)
When talking about remote monitoring, we’re discussing the use of technology and technical devices to allow clinicians and medical professionals to monitor patient health remotely. This type of technology is already in use in several different fields of medicine, including diabetes, asthma, and cardiovascular disease.
With telemonitoring or remote monitoring, doctors receive specific data from biosensors worn by the patient. These devices can be as simple as an electronic scale or an implanted glucometer. Based on the information provided to the doctor, specific treatment plans and drugs are prescribed.
There are many benefits to remote monitoring, but the primary ones are reduced costs and improved patient satisfaction. While patient testing is not always as accurate as clinician tests, the overall volume of tests that a patient can self administer helps address this.
Real-Time Interactive Services (Teleconsultation)
When you think about teleconsultation and real-time interactive services, you are probably thinking about video conferencing or something similar, and you would be correct. Telemedicine also includes phone and home visits, however, so there are many different options available to patients. Cisco is a leader in internet and networking technology and their research shows that 74% of patients are comfortable using technology for their consultations versus in-person visits.
During a real-time interactive services consultation, doctors and patients use technology to communicate. This ability to remotely converse helps save patients time traveling to and from the doctor’s office and can make doctors significantly more efficient. While tools like Skype, Zoom, Facetime, and others offer some capabilities for real-time interactive services, they are not ideal as they do not account for patient privacy considerations.
There are many examples of teleconsultation already in operation around the world. Some of these include:
- Telenursing – consultations over the phone or video conference allow nurse practitioners to diagnose and monitor health conditions remotely. This is a cost-effective solution for minor ailments and particularly well suited for rural areas.
- Telepharmacy – pharmacists can monitor and advise patients remotely and, based on local regulations, refill prescriptions saving patients significant amounts of time.
- Telerehabilitation – video is used extensively to assess the effectiveness of therapy with rehab patients. New exercises are designed based on how the patient is performing.
This type of telemedicine is more about the interaction of different healthcare providers. Sometimes called “asynchronous telemedicine,” it is how various providers share patient information. This information can include lab reports, videos, patient records, and more and is often shared between general practitioners and specialists. Very similar to email, it offers many more features that are specifically related to patient security and confidentiality.
Store-and-Forward telemedicine is a very efficient means of communicating. It allows patients, doctors, and specialists to converse and collaborate quickly and easily in a way and at a time that is convenient to all. By using this technology, patients can speak to and utilize the best resources for their care, regardless of geography.
Telemedicine is changing the way health professionals and patients communicate and interact. The benefits are evident and manifold, and many organizations have already embraced this new way of working. In fact, according to the American Telemedicine Association, close to half of all US hospitals have already implemented telemedicine in some way in their normal work operation. If you are interested in implementing telemedicine within your practice but do not have the in-house design skills and knowledge to know what is best, contact us for help.
At NIX, we have worked with healthcare organizations around the world, and we know how to set you up to compete in the healthcare market. We understand telemedicine and know how to implement it in the real world.
Our team has worked with healthcare leaders for over 25 years and we can deal with any technical challenge that comes up. The team at NIX knows how to build an application that focuses on the end-user experience, and we will work with you throughout the full product development lifecycle. Contact us to see how we can help your organization automate processes and offload work from your call center and support teams while building a tool that will help improve your relationships with your patients.
Author bio: Natalie Tkachenko, Healthcare Software Solutions Consultant at NIX. With more than 3 years of practical experience, Natalia helps CIOs of Medical companies, CTOs and Founders of agile Healthtech startups build technology solutions that make medical practice better and leverage digital transformation to meet patients expectations.