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telemedicine - AZ Business Magazine May/June 2012

Telemedicine – The Wave Of The Future

As technology becomes more sophisticated, telemedicine may become more common in the healthcare industry.

Remember on “Star Trek” where people could be teleported? Imagine how valuable it would be to teleport a medical specialist when needed.

Thanks to technology, we are not that far off.

Better mobile technologies and electronic health records have caused the healthcare industry to incorporate more telemedicine into medical care. Jonathan Linkous, CEO of the American Telemedicine Association, defines telemedicine as “the delivery of any healthcare service or transmission of wellness information using telecommunications technology.” Experts say telemedicine has the potential to transform the way medical care is provided and the way medical education is taught.

“Physicians and patients can now interact and share information through video conferencing, online communications and mobile phones,” says Dr. Tami Romano of HealthNation, a Scottsdale-based company that is leading the way in providing affordable healthcare to 75 groups and businesses through telemedicine services. “The access to electronic medical records allows physicians to be more efficient, to share information more easily and provide remote monitoring, to people living in rural areas. It gives patients access to specialists without leaving their homes, and there is more opportunity for in-depth and expanded care with remote diagnosis and follow-up.”

Dr. Ronald Weinstein, who helped create the Arizona Telemedicine Program in 1995, has built a broadband communications network in Arizona that brings clinical services to hundreds of thousands of patients at 160 sites in 50 Arizona communities, including remote towns on Arizona’s Indian reservations and in its state prisons.

Weinstein says the use of telemedicine in medical training will save lives.

“The third leading cause of death in adults in the United States is medical error,” says Weinstein, who was named “Innovator of the Year” by the University of Arizona in March. “We’re working on a new curriculum to train nurses, doctors, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals together.”

Weinstein says that many patient-care deaths stem from failures in communication. In addition to fostering communication among health professionals, using telemedicine as early introduction to medical education will produce citizens capable of making better health decisions. “Health literacy in the general population is critical if we are going to manage our own health,” he says.

In addition to providing a better platform to inform patients and for doctors to communicate, telemedicine is also helping companies’ bottom line in an age of skyrocketing medical costs.

“Employees are able to address healthcare issues for themselves and their families without incurring loss of time from work,” Romano says. “Companies are able to contain costs by structuring health benefits with the combination of a major medical plan and telemedicine services, giving employees coverage for the big things and first line of defense care for wellness,” Romano says. “The cost is less than a PPO and encourages more preventative care.”

While Medicare has been slower to change reimbursement policies to accommodate telemedicine care, private insurers and state Medicaid payers have been more progressive in covering many services, and that’s pushing more doctors and hospitals to provide them.

“The introduction and expansion of telemedicine will continue to enhance the communication between physicians and patients, which will ultimately allow better patient outcomes,” Romano says. “It will also help to contain costs, reduce physician overhead and transition our system from fixing the sick to preventing the sick, which will lead to a healthier population.

5 telemedicine services

  • Specialist referral services typically involves of a specialist assisting a general practitioner in rendering a diagnosis. This may involve a patient “seeing” a specialist over a live, remote consult or the transmission of diagnostic images and/ or video along with patient data to a specialist for viewing later.
  • Patient consultations using telecommunications to provide medical data, which may include audio, still or live images, between a patient and a health professional for use in rendering a diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • Remote patient monitoring uses devices to remotely collect and send data to a monitoring station for interpretation.
  • Medical education provides continuing medical education credits for health professionals and special medical education seminars for targeted groups in remote locations.
  • Consumer medical and health information includes the use of the Internet for consumers to obtain specialized health information and online discussion groups to provide peer-to-peer support.

Arizona Business Magazine May/June 2012