The medical field has always been one that required in-office visits, even for the most simple of checkups. For patients who were very sick, going to a doctor's office is still necessary to get prescription refills, check symptoms and more. Now, with IP telephony, VoIP and other technology, telemedicine is starting to become a more widespread reality, according to CIO.com editor Brian Eastwood.
"It's not just that the technology is cheaper and easier to use, either," Eastwood said. "Washington, D.C. is taking notice. The Obama administration's healthcare reform law emphasizes coordinated, accountable care – in which telemedicine can play an important part – while proposed legislation from U.S. Rep. Michael Thompson (D-Calif.) would remove many of the bureaucratic barriers that hinder telemedicine's spread."
Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, said they formed in 1993 and that he has been waiting 20 years for this technology to become more popular. Now is the time, he told Eastwood, as the number of challenges healthcare providers currently face in treating chronic conditions, the deteriorating health of the baby boomer generation and the rising number of Americans who need treatment means that it only makes sense for healthcare to start taking a serious look at bringing in solutions in an effort to make it easier on everyone. While Linkous doesn't believe telemedicine will likely not solve all of healthcare's problems, it will go a long way toward helping to ease many of them.
Linkous wrote on mHIMSS that despite what many think, telemedicine will not replace doctor's offices, hospitals and healthcare facilities. Instead, the technology can provide a more in-depth treatment plan for patients and offer additional care options for those who may not have received quality treatment before.
"So many new entrepreneurs in telemedicine start out with a negative, competitive attitude to traditional healthcare," he wrote on the website. "We have not reached the point where someone with heart disease is going to trust his or her care to a computer alone. The roles of hospitals and health providers are changing, but they will continue to be the backbone of medicine."
Changing the status quo
Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke at the recent MIT Future of Health and Wellness Conference and said while the status quo works well for about 75 percent of Americans, those who it fails are hurting. Telemedicine could help, however. For example, the Veterans Health Administration uses telecommunications to monitor health and keep up with 50,000 patients, achieving a satisfaction level of 85 percent among these patients, something that would be well served to spread to the general population as well.
Eastwood said it is getting to the point where few can deny the role that telemedicine is playing in healthcare, as 10 million Americans are already benefiting from it. With the ease of use of a VoIP tool, patients can quickly connect with their doctor via a video or voice chat and be able to move forward without having to spend time commuting to and staying at an office. This could greatly increase the number of people across the country who are able to obtain treatment.