A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 29, 2016

How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care

Electronic medicine is changing perceptions about what constitutes health care

Just as ecommerce and fintech have altered views about the definition of sales and money, so the proliferation of online medical information is spurring the conversion of knowledge to action. The challenge, as always, is to maintain quality while increasing volume. JL

Melinda Beck reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Doctors are linking up with patients by phone, email and webcam. They’re consulting with each other electronically. The volume of health information on the internet is raising questions about what constitutes the practice of medicine. Some web-based businesses enable consumers to consult doctors who don’t have medical licenses, but post fine-print disclaimers that they are providing information, not medical advice. In a poll of 1,500 family physicians, only 15% had used it in their practices—but 90% said they would if appropriately reimbursed.
After years of big promises, telemedicine is finally living up to its potential.
Driven by faster internet connections, ubiquitous smartphones and changing insurance standards, more health providers are turning to electronic communications to do their jobs—and it’s upending the delivery of health care.
Doctors are linking up with patients by phone, email and webcam. They’re also consulting with each other electronically—sometimes to make split-second decisions on heart attacks and strokes. Patients, meanwhile, are using new devices to relay their blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs to their doctors so they can manage chronic conditions at home.Telemedicine also allows for better care in places where medical expertise is hard to come by.
Five to 10 times a day, Doctors Without Borders relays questions about tough cases from its physicians in Niger, South Sudan and elsewhere to its network of 280 experts around the world, and back again via the internet.
In the woods outside St. Louis, shifts of doctors and nurses work around the clock in Mercy health system’s new Virtual Care Center—a “hospital without beds” that provides remote support for intensive-care units, emergency rooms and other programs in 38 smaller hospitals from North Carolina to Oklahoma. Many of them don’t have a physician on-site 24/7.
In the TeleICU section, critical-care doctors sit at oversize video monitors that continually collect data on every far-flung ICU patient and can spot signs of imminent trouble. If a patient needs attention, Mercy physicians can zoom in via two-way camera—close enough to read the tiny print on an IV bag.
“It’s almost like being at the bedside—I can’t shock a patient [restart his heart with electrical paddles], but I can give an order to the nurses there,” says Vinaya Sermadevi, a critical-care specialist.
In the past year, ICUs monitored by Mercy specialists have seen a 35% decrease in patients’ average length of stay and 30% fewer deaths than anticipated. “That translates to 1,000 people who were expected to die who got to go home instead,” says Randy Moore, president of Mercy Virtual.

The Virtual Doctor Is In

The number of virtual doctor visits in the U.S.
The percentage of providers that have telemedicine programs
The percentage of large employers offering telemedicine benefits
Source: American Telemedicine Association (virtual doctor visits); Avizia survey of 280 health-care executives, March 2016 (providers); National Business Group on Health survey of 140 large employers (benefits)


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