What is the definition of telemedicine? Telemedicine is the exchange of medical information from one location to another using electronic communication, which improves patient health status. Telemedicine has multiple applications and can be used for different services, which includes wireless tools, email, two-way video, smartphones, and other methods of telecommunications technology.
Beginning more than 40 years ago with hospitals extending their services to patients in remote locations, telemedicine has grown rapidly and has become an integrated part of specialty departments, hospitals, private doctor offices, home health care, and the consumer’s residence and workplace.
Telemedicine Meaning – Telemedicine is not considered a distinct medical specialty. The products and services of telemedicine are part of the larger investment of healthcare settings, either through their information technology or method of delivering healthcare. The reimbursement fees typically do not make a distinction between the services provided through telemedicine and those delivered on site. This means there is no difference between the billing and coding of remote services. The ATA has traditionally considered telehealth and telemedicine to be interchangeable terms, which includes wide definitions of remote healthcare. Consultations with patients through video conferencing, e-health which may include patient portals, electronic transmission of digital images, monitoring of vital signs remotely, wireless applications for consumers, call centers, continuing medical education, and other applications are among the services that are considered part of telehealth and telemedicine.
In some instances, telehealth may be used to refer to a broader area of remote healthcare,which does not include clinical services. However, the ATA uses the term similarly to the way medicine or health would be used. Telemedicine is closely related to health information technology (HIT). In general, HIT mostly refers to electronic medical records and related health information systems, but telemedicine refers to the delivery system of various clinical services via the use of technology.
What Services Are Provided Through Telemedicine?
Telemedicine may be best understood by the services provided and the methods used to provide those services. The following are some examples:
- Primary care and referral services for specialist care may require consultation between a primary care or allied healthcare professional and their consultation with the patient or specialist, who will assist the physician in determining a diagnosis. This may occur via live interactive video or with technology to save and forward diagnostic images, patient vital signs and/or video along with the patient’s data to review later.
- Patient monitoring at remote locations, which includes home health services. Devices are used to collect and send patient data remotely to the home health agency or a diagnostic testing facility. The information might include vital signs for homebound patients, such as blood glucose testing results, ECG information, or a host of other information about the patient. The services provided via telemedicine help supplement services provided by visiting nurses.
- Health and medical information for consumers may include the use of wireless devices or the internet, which allows consumers to access specialized health information and discussion groups to engage in peer-to-peer support.
- Continuing medical education credits can be obtained by health professionals and specialized medical education can be more accessible for people in remote locations.
What Delivery Methods Are Used?
Networked programs are used to link hospitals and clinics with other clinics and community health services in remote locations. This may occur via dedicated high-speed telecommunications lines or the internet, so there can be communication between sites. According to the ATA, the current number of communication networks in the United States is 200, with that number providing telemedicine services to over 3,000 sites.
Point-to-point connections are used by hospitals and clinics to deliver services directly or to outsource their services to other independent medical providers. These connections are private, high-speed networks. Outsourced services may include assessment of stroke, mental health services, intensive care, and radiology.
Links for monitoring centers are used for patients who need in-home care, pulmonary or cardiac monitoring services in their home. A typical landline or wireless connection can be used to communicate between the patient and the care center. However, some systems use the internet for communication patient monitoring information.
E-health patient services available on the internet are used to provide consumer outreach services. In terms of telemedicine, these services are websites that are used for direct patient care.
How Is Telemedicine Beneficial?
Telemedicine has been increasingly popular because it has four major benefits:
Improved access to care– For more than 40 years, telemedicine has made healthcare accessible to patients in remote locations. In addition to improving access for patients, telemedicine also allows doctors and healthcare facilities to reach out to other offices, beyond their own network. Even with provider shortages, in both rural and urbanized areas, telemedicine has been able to increase service to millions of patients.
Improved cost effectiveness– One of the most important reasons for including telehealth technology is the ability to contain or reduce the cost of healthcare. Telemedicine is able to reduce healthcare costs because of efficiency, improved management of chronic diseases, reductions in travel time, shortened hospital stays, and sharing of professional healthcare staff.
Improve healthcare quality– Many studies have shown there is an improvement in healthcare quality when telemedicine services are used. They are just as good as services given during in-person consultations. In some instances, such as intensive care or mental health, telemedicine actually outperforms traditional services. There is better patient outcome and satisfaction with telemedicine.
Increased patient demand– Telemedicine is popular with consumers. Some of the most profound impacts of telemedicine is on the patient, their family, and community. Patients have less stress and travel time with the use of telemedicine. Over the last 15 years, multiple studies have shown patient satisfaction and increased support for telemedicine services. These services provide patients with access to providers that would be inaccessible otherwise, and access to medical services without the need for long-distance travel.