Telemedicine More Common, Cost-Cutting

Telemedicine has been becoming more and more common.

There have been patients engaging their healthcare via telephone—a practice commonly referred to as telemedicine—for more than 40 years. The ability to consult a physician remotely has been a literal lifesaver for the nation’s more rural areas. Some in the medical liability industry have questioned the soundness of this practice over the years, but recent advances in technology have made telemedicine more safe, a cost-saving venture and a lucrative practice.

The term telemedicine has come to refer to any medical consultation provided via information technologies that include a standard telephone, video conferencing, a webcam, iPad or smart phone. And as society has become more reliant on these information technologies in their everyday life, both healthcare workers and patients have become more comfortable with the practice of medicine being executed in a similar fashion.

What has really advanced the practice of telemedicine is that health insurance companies are now more willing to reimburse the practice. Not only are more payers now willing to pay for telemedicine consults, many state legislatures are passing laws mandating that these payers do so.

The practice of telemedicine has especially taken-off in the Southeast region of the United States, where there are larger swaths of rural, hard-to-reach areas. Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth, a nonprofit telemedicine telemedicine provider in the Peach State, works with more than 350 partners, 175 specialists and has handled more than 40,000 patient encounters as of 2011. The program has been so successful, they are looking to replicate it in Alabama, Florida and other regional states.

Not only has it improved access to care, telemedicine has decreased what would the cost of medicine. School-based telemedicine in Nashville, Ga., has decreased the number of student emergency room visits by 118, equating to $354,000 in emergency department costs. A similar system installed in Nashville, Ga., nursing homes has decreased the number of elderly emergency room visits by 160, equating to $480,000 in emergency department costs.

Telemedicine has a bright future in an American healthcare system that desperately needs to cut the costs of healthcare delivery.

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