How many times have you heard someone claim that technology has revolutionized almost every facet of our lives? indeed, technology has substantially improved the way you stay connected to your friends and family living miles and miles away, there are so many other benefits of it that sometimes go unnoticed. Take medicine for example. In the earlier ages, it used to be so difficult to diagnose a disease, which now has become so easy with the help of different tools and machines, all thanks to technology. As technology has evolved, we have come across plenty of different advances in the sector. One of those advances is telemedicine.
So, what is telemedicine?
Telemedicine basically refers to the availing of healthcare services without having to physically go to the clinic. To be brief, we can say that telemedicine enables patients to get remote healthcare services. Telemedicine may seem like a service through which you can get in touch with your doctor. But contrary to that popular belief, it is way more than that. Telemedicine helps patients in getting evaluated, diagnosed and cared for at a distance. Video conferencing is an effective approach towards diagnosing diseases and evaluating patients to avoid the need of an in-person visit.
Telemedicine has been around for more than 40 years. Remember back in the day when we had to wait in crowded waiting rooms for our turn just to see the doctor for a mere 15 minutes? Well, there is a significant decrease in that practice now, because customers have more freedom of choice in this day and age. So, as more and more patients hunt for cheaper ways to get healthcare services and also do that from the comfort of their homes, telemedicine has become increasingly ubiquitous.
For follow ups, any sort of queries or minor medical requirements, patients always prefer to talk to doctors over the phone or on online doctor consultation rather than seeing them in person. This not only saves them a lot of time, but they are able to cut down transportation cost as well.
Due to these benefits’ telemedicine has become synonymous with convenience and quality, that is why it has been accepted in the US at a very large scale and it has become a crucial component of the American healthcare infrastructure. Over the recent years, many states in the US have passed laws which have made it quite easy for medical companies to practice telemedicine and equally easy for patients to acquire those services. Moreover, federal health regulators are looking for methods that will prove to be a step forward in issuing Medicare reimbursements for telemedicine services.
There are various options that patients can opt for in telemedicine depending upon what their provider has in store for them. The most basic feature of a telemedicine platform is a message and call button through which you can have your doctor pretty much at your fingertips. Secondly, it is also possible for your doctor to send your telemedicine doctor material such as lab results, X-rays reports, or medical history in order for him to create a well-suited healthcare plan for you. However, if your telemedicine doctor claims that the information provided is not sufficient then he can get in touch with your doctor to obtain more data. Together, you, your telemedicine doctor and your regular doctor can formulate the perfect treatment plan.
Additionally, there are some healthcare providers that also offer the option of remote patient monitoring systems. These remote systems are very beneficial when it comes to the gathering of information from patients and sending it over to doctors for interpretation. This is a huge step forward in the progress of telemedicine as homebound patients can easily pass on their healthcare information to doctors to keep them informed and updated. This is usually done through remote hospital staff such as nurses that come to your house and conduct all the required tests by setting up needed machinery and pass on the information obtained to the doctor before his working hours are over.
Telemedicine has increasingly become a great option for patients seeking medical care that comes with convenience. It can also be used a great support system for people that are going through a chronic condition alone. There are telemedicine discussion groups where people with different conditions come together and discuss what works for them and what doesn’t. Whether you need advice or someone to talk to, these community building programs are very beneficial. Meeting people that are going through a condition similar to yours can be relieving.
Features of a good telemedicine platform:
With a slew of telemedicine platform options available to patients, it is hard to come to terms or make up you mind in the favor of one. Therefore, your strategy should be to first identify features that to you are absolutely non negotiable and then do a price vs value comparison. Because vendors selling their platform for a low price would likely tell you that all telemedicine platforms are created same but they won’t tell you that their platform is in reality feature-deprived. There are 6 features which are very important in the platform, so let’s explore what they are:
- HIPAA Compliance
HIPAA is vital for all healthcare organizations that deal with protected health information or PHI. It is not only crucial to safeguard PHI but also patient personal identifiers that can help identify a particular person. Even though, patients and doctors prefer a platform that provides a video calling, audio calling or messaging platform, it is essential to ensure whether these services are encrypted or not. For example, some telemedicine portals come with Skype but it can’t be encrypted so PHI can be subject to breach.
Be sure to be proactive and ask your vendor whether all the equipped features in the platform are HIPAA compliant or not.
But how can you ensure that your vendor is HIPAA compliant? First, you need to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your service provider. Secondly, you need to ensure that the video streaming platform provided is encrypted. This is where Skype falls short of HIPAA compliance.
- Business Associate Agreement
Like mentioned above, it is essential and beneficial if you sign a Business Associate Agreement with your vendor. Although some people often overlook it, we’d advise against it because it will ensure the safety of the PHI that is obtained. Even if the video call or audio call sessions are not recorded, you will have a lot of PHI on the system so safeguarding it is absolutely imperative, otherwise you could unintentionally cause breach of HIPAA regulations. With a Business Associate Agreement, you will convey it to the vendor that personal health information of a patient will be stored on the platform and you will establish the measures that will be taken on the part of the vendor to safeguard that information.
With a BAA in hand, you will have proof of the fact that the vendor is under contract for protecting PHI and in case of a breach, you won’t be held liable.
You as a medical practitioner could be tech savvy but that doesn’t mean all of your clients or patients would be as well. They might not even have adequate space to support a software. Additionally, software expires and keeping it updated is also a hassle. There are some patients that don’t even know how to launch an install. Therefore, we suggest that you get a platform that in addition to providing a software, also comes in the web-based version to cater to your less tech-savvy market. Because these issues sometimes become insurmountable and end up discouraging patients from using the telemedicine platform at all.
- Un-complicated hardware requirements
You don’t want to end up with a platform that requires you to get a room full of hardware to run. The platform should be flexible and easily compatible with any sort of computer or tablet. The only requirement that should be present should be of microphone, camera and an apt system. Therefore, it is essential for the platform to be flexible.
- One step login
Have you ever come across apps or platforms that consisted of tedious login requirements? How did you feel about them? Did you continue to use those platforms or were you so discouraged that you uninstalled them right away to never use them again? Well, if this has irritated you, then it has irritated other people too. Especially patients because when people are going through any sort of medical conditions, they are easily irritable. So, having an easy login procedure is vital to retain patients. It is also possible to have a HIPAA compliant system that doesn’t even require patients to login every time they want to get in touch with their care provider.
- Compatible with slow internet connections
Hospitals and clinics are notorious for having low bandwidth of internet. Whereas, on the other hand, video calls are well known for hogging bandwidth. So, in order to meet halfway, the telemedicine platform has to support internet which is slow or bandwidth that is low.
Benefits of Telemedicine Platforms:
Like we discussed earlier, since telemedicine is very convenient for patients and doctors alike, it has become quite ubiquitous in the healthcare industry. In the past, there were laws passed that have made telemedicine very easy to adopt. Recently telemedicine got a boost when the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced that they would enable insurers place telehealth advantages in their basic benefits packages for 2020 Medicare Advantage plans.
In an interview, CMS said that “Historically, Medicare Advantage plans have been able to offer more telehealth services, compared to Original Medicare, as part of their supplemental benefits. But with the final rule, it will be more likely that plans will offer the additional telehealth benefits outside of supplemental benefits, expanding patients’ access to telehealth services from more providers and in more parts of the country than before, whether they live in rural or urban areas.”
At this move by CMS, MDLive’s chief medical officer said that “This is a bold and important move by CMS, signaling to the rest of the healthcare system that telehealth-based care is simply another form of care and should be treated as such. This is a rare win for providers, patients and payors.”
So, how does telemedicine prove to be beneficial for patients?
There are plenty of benefits of telemedicine. Perhaps, the most important one is that it provides you with access to doctors and information that you otherwise, without the help of these platforms won’t necessarily have. While a telemedicine session is underway, patients have the option of telling the doctor about their symptoms and details about the condition and ask questions. In turn, the care provider does the same and ask questions which help him become more well-informed on the situation.
This telemedicine setup is way more convenient at passing on information than trying to transmit information to your specialist or nurse, and then having them see the message.
With the videocall feature, the doctor can have a first hand examination of your symptoms. He can see the intervals between your sneezes and see your red eyes. And on top of that, since telemedicine is considered a usual healthcare services, you won’t have to pay extra to avail it. And it will ideally be covered by your insurance.
For medical services providers, it is imperative to stay on top of the upcoming trends in market because the competition is so much that it is very easy to get outdated. While telemedicine has been around for many decades, recently there are laws that are being passed to make its use easier and easier which means that it has become vital for clinicians to provide telemedicine services to their customers in order to stay present in the market and retain the patients that they currently have.