Telemedicine is becoming increasingly important in healthcare, largely because it offers a convenient and integrated experience for patients. Many doctors still have questions about telemedicine, especially when it comes to using the technology and the laws that govern it. Once considered pie-in-the-sky technology, telemedicine is expanding rapidly. The global telemedicine industry was worth more than $38 billion in 2018, according to Mordor Intelligence, and it will likely grow to nearly $104 billion by 2024.
Telemedicine is becoming widely accepted among institutions, providers and patients. Millions of patients around the world use telemedicine to monitor their vital signs, check the results of tests, and consult with their general practitioners and specialists. Physicians use telemedicine to monitor test results, consult with other practitioners and check in with their patients.
Telemedicine is an established component of healthcare in the United States, with about 200 telemedicine and 3500 service sites already in existence. Nearly 1 million Americans currently use remote cardiac monitors. More than half of all U.S. hospitals use some form of telemedicine; in 2016, about 12 percent of veterans received healthcare through telemedicine, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More than 70 percent of healthcare providers now use telemedicine tools to connect with patients.
Some organizations view telemedicine and telehealth as two different services, with telemedicine focusing on the clinical aspects of care and telehealth encompassing a broader range of services that include clinical care as well as health-related education, public health and health administration. The American Telemedicine Association uses the two terms interchangeably.
In general, telemedicine is the use of the internet, wireless, satellite and telephone media for the remote delivery of clinical information and healthcare services.
Here are some of the commonly asked questions about Telemedicine.
1. What technology do I need to conduct a telemedicine visit?
You will need a secure, encrypted video teleconferencing service that allows private conversations that meet HITECH and HIPAA standards. A stable Internet connection that allows for the transmission of audio and video is also necessary. A special consent specific to the telemedicine session above the usual informed consent is not necessary, although clinicians may want to consider adding telemedicine language to their general consent to care document.
2. Do patients want telemedicine?
Yes. In fact, 65 percent of respondents to a recent survey said they want to use telemedicine, and 7 percent said they would consider leaving their primary doctor for a clinician that offered telemedicine services. Telemedicine saves patients a considerable amount of time and can even help them get the care they need faster, without having to wait for an appointment or travel across town.
3. How does telemedicine benefit healthcare providers?
Telemedicine helps health providers connect with patients who might be thousands of miles away. This is especially helpful for specialists working in large urban hospitals to connect with patients living in rural areas. Healthcare providers can even earn additional income by seeing patients through telemedicine at their convenience.
4. What are the laws about telemedicine?
There are currently few federal laws governing the use of telemedicine, each state has begun to write laws regulating the use of this new technology. Some states limit the types of providers that can provide telemedicine services, for example. The Center for Connected Health Policy hosts an interactive site that offers information about telehealth related laws, regulations and Medicaid programs for each state.
5. Can I prescribe medications using telemedicine?
Yes. In many cases, practitioners must first have in-person visits with the patient before prescribing medications virtually. Special Registration for Telemedicine Act of 2018 even allows providers to prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine under certain circumstances and within strict guidelines.
Old laws, such as the Ryan Haight Act, tightly controlled the distribution and dispensation of medications by means of the internet in an effort to prevent online pharmacies from letting consumers merely fill out questionnaires to get anything they wanted. Legislators are relaxing some of the restrictions of the Ryan Haight Act as they recognize the many benefits telemedicine has to offer. Telemedicine sessions are increasingly included in official medical records, for example, which means they serve as an extra layer of verification when it comes to prescribing.
6. What about Medicaid reimbursement?
Provider reimbursement is changing fast – insurance and Medicare will now cover some services. Medicare coverage is required by law in some cases. For example, the FAST Act (Furthering Access to Stroke Telemedicine) requires Medicare to reimburse providers for providing a specific type of telemedicine for stroke victims, known as tele-stroke care.
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have some form of written definitive Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth in their public program, according to The National Telehealth Policy Center. Massachusetts is the only state without such a definitive policy.
Telemedicine is a growing industry that is gaining in popularity among patients, payers, and practitioners. For more information about telemedicine and the benefits, it can provide, consult with telemedicine professional.