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What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine involves using telecommunication technology to provide healthcare remotely. While telemedicine has been around for awhile, the field has expanded rapidly in recent years with the expansion of the internet and the ability to connect via 2-way video.
Telemedicine solutions use much of the same software and technology as telehealth, but for a narrower focus. Whereas telehealth software might be used for general health purposes, like alerting the public to a disease outbreak, telemedicine software is used specifically to provide clinical care. Usually, telemedicine software connects patients with their doctors, or physicians to other healthcare providers; it’s not commonly used by government agencies in public health, health systems administration, or other nonclinical professionals.
What’s the main point of telemedicine software solutions? To offer an effective and convenient way of providing healthcare from a distance. Many people may not be able to access care in their area, or travel to their doctor’s office. This makes it hard for patient to get necessary treatment when they need it.
Enter telemedicine solutions. With the right telemedicine software, healthcare providers can consult patients about an injury, diagnose an illness, or write a prescription without actually seeing the patient in-person. Many doctors have been doing telemedicine for decades; when a patient calls on the telephone with an urgent request or question after-hours, doctors usually consult with them on the phone. That qualifies as telemedicine.
However, telemedicine solutions are most effective when a physician can actually see the patient, visually diagnose a condition, and document the encounter. That’s why the best telemedicine software now connects physicians and patients via 2-way video, or allows sharing of photos or recorded video. With this visual data and better communication with the patient, telemedicine visits can provide a real alternative to in-person visits.
Categories of Telemedicine
Telemedicine software solutions usually fall into three different categories: remote patient monitoring, store-and-forward, and real-time. Here’s a quick review of what each of these telemedicine types involve.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Sometimes called “home telemedicine,” remote patient monitoring lets healthcare providers track patients’ health from home using a variety of medical devices. Patients might use a medical device in their homes to monitor their vital signs, track their glucose levels, and report how they’re feeling. This type of telemedicine solution is especially popular among patients with chronic diseases, and those in recovery after a stay at the hospital. Remote patient monitoring lets physicians check-in with their patients more frequently, catch potential warning signs before they turn into problems, and offer patients more convenience and less risk. For many patients who are elderly or recovering from a major injury or illness, for example, a trip to a doctor’s office is a challenge.
Store-and-forward telemedicine solutions are used widely all over the world. This type of telemedicine software allows patients or healthcare providers to send medical data (like photos, information on vital signs, recorded videos of patients) to another medical professional for diagnosis or consultation. For instance, a primary care provider might notice a skin abnormality on a patient that needs to be diagnosed by a dermatologist. The primary care doctor can take a photo of the patient and use a store-and-forward telemedicine software to securely send the photo and the patient’s electronic record to the dermatologist. Then, the doctor can quickly get a response back on how to move forward. This type of telemedicine is an incredibly effective way to make healthcare more efficient, especially in areas where medical specialists are limited.
Unlike with store-and-forward and remote patient monitoring solutions, this type of telemedicine requires the patient and healthcare provider to interact in real-time. Think a phone call, chatroom, or online video conference. In all cases, the patient and clinician are both present and communicating back-and-forth, at the same time.
While real-time telemedicine does require a patient and physician to coordinate schedules, it’s the most similar to an in-person visit. In many cases the physician can use the patient’s history, the live video or other visual information provided, and the patient’s comments to assess the patient and provide treatment remotely. Some real-time telemedicine software may also incorporate mobile medical devices to capture a patient’s vital signs or other health information in place of a physical exam.
Real-time telemedicine software (like the eVisit app!) is a good option for patients who need to see a physician, but cannot get into the doctor’s office, whether because of distance, cost of travel, time, physical effort etc. Recent studies have found that in some cases remote visits using 2-way video can be as effective, and more cost-efficient than in-person doctor visits.
Telemedicine Software Features
We’ve now reviewed the basic types of telemedicine solutions. But what about the different types of features that telemedicine software should have? Here are a few things to look for when evaluating any telemedicine software solution.
Since telemedicine software is often used to save, transmit, or share private patient health information, it needs to be 100% secure and HIPAA compliant. That’s why general video-conferencing programs like Skype should not be used as telemedicine software.
Telemedicine software needs to be easy-to-use for both patients and physicians. The best telemedicine software incorporates best practices in user-interface design so that the user experience is intuitive. The more intuitive and simple the design, the less time and training required to get both the healthcare provider and the patient on-board. Technology should be a solution and not a barrier!
Many states now allow reimbursement for telemedicine services, especially remote visits done via 2-way video. But in order to get reimbursed, each telemedicine visit needs to be well-documented. The top telemedicine software solutions allow healthcare providers to easily document the patient encounter and then submit the record for reimbursement.
Patient visits done through telemedicine need to be documented too. Many telemedicine software solutions allow providers to import any visit notes into a patient’s EHR, to keep everything in one place and up-to-date. Some may also integrate with an EHR system for seamless record-keeping.
The idea behind telemedicine solutions is to make healthcare delivery more efficient. A process like calling in prescription orders to pharmacies can be time-consuming for healthcare providers. That’s why telemedicine software should include an ePrescribe feature. This lets a physician submit a prescription electronically, without needing to pick-up the phone or contact the pharmacy.
There are a range of telemedicine software solutions out there. Some require extensive set-up and training to learn how to use the program and any accompanying equipment. Some solutions may come with a dedicated telemedicine station and mobile medical devices, whereas others may just need a personal computer with a microphone and webcam. While every healthcare providers’ needs are different, the best telemedicine software should require minimal set-up and training to get started.
Telemedicine solutions come in all shapes and sizes. The sophistication of the technology, the equipment, training, set-up, amount of users required will all affect the cost of a telemedicine service. Healthcare providers should evaluate their budget for a telemedicine software and make sure they consider how much training and staff resources they’ll need to implement the telemedicine software. Since telemedicine providers offer solutions for single-provider practices all the way up to huge health systems, there’s always a good fit.
Telemedicine solutions have the power to change the way we provide and receive healthcare for the better. Find the right telemedicine software for your practice now.