What Is Telemedicine And How Does It Work?
What Is Telemedicine And How Does It Work?
By: Mick Polo | Read Time: 7 minutes
More than ever before, the internet is changing the lives of people worldwide. As the pandemic rages on, people are now relying on the internet to work, shop, and keep in touch with friends. Though most people associate it with maximizing business profits by expanding a company’s reach, the internet is now transforming healthcare. Telemedicine is now the new solution for medical services.
The medical care appointments that people used to have in person are now being done online. This is so that it reduces the amount of face-to-face contact. It also allows those who can't visit hospitals physically to get the care they need.
As a healthcare provider running a mental health, rehabilitation, physiotherapy, primary physician, or immunization practice, you cannot afford to ignore telemedicine. You might have come across the term in your daily work. But, do you know what it is and how it impacts your work? From our article below, you will get answers to most, if not all, of your questions on telemedicine.
What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a tool designed to improve the accessibility, cost-efficiency, and engagement of patients. Since its introduction in the 1950s, telemedicine technologies have continued to evolve to reach people in almost all areas through virtual visits.
In telemedicine, healthcare providers and patients exchange information in real time via video chat on an internet-enabled device’s screen. Telemedicine allows you to capture the readings of medical devices outside of your facility. Then, they can use that information to diagnose and treat a patient no matter where they are.
Recently, there has been rapid adoption of telemedicine by the new generation of patients. This has resulted in a higher demand for tech-savvy services to make processes more efficient. By 2020, the sector had a value of $55.9 billion with an expected compound annual growth rate of 22.4% from 2021-2028. In a nutshell, telemedicine is a platform that allows you to deliver clinical services from a distance.
Difference between Telemedicine and Telehealth
Some industry experts erroneously assume that telemedicine and telehealth refer to the same things. They sometimes use them interchangeably. Telehealth refers to the use of telecommunications technology and electronic information to improve the quality of long-distance health care.
Unlike telemedicine, telehealth covers non-clinical events. This includes CMEs, physician training, administrative meetings, and consultations among healthcare workers. In general, telehealth services are all-encompassing, with telecare and telemedicine falling under them. Moreover, while telehealth includes all health professionals, telemedicine is physician-focused.
Types of Telemedicine
You have three options for telemedicine services. These include:
- Interactive medicine
- Store and forward
- Remote patient monitoring
Interactive medicine is a form of telemedicine in which patients and doctors communicate in real-time via video or phone virtual visits. HIPAA regulations protect the privacy of patients' health information, so this form of telemedicine is usually safe.
One of these regulations is that video or audio communication should be encrypted and transferred from one point to another. This maintains patient confidentiality. In interactive medicine, physicians access a patient’s medical history and can perform psychiatric evaluations.
Store and forward allows physicians to share a patient’s electronic health record with a healthcare provider in another location. This allows a doctor to get updated information on how another physician has already handled a patient. These records help to avoid duplicating diagnostic tests or medications.
Remote patient monitoring is a favorite among elderly patients for chronic disease management. A patient portal is a website where doctors and other healthcare providers can share information about their patients. Medical devices can also send essential information such as vital signs directly to healthcare providers. This information is used to make different treatment adjustments to improve patient outcomes.
How Does Telemedicine Work?
At its basic, telemedicine comprises two main features, including a patient portal and video conferencing. Virtual consultations will be held via video conferencing software like Zoom. Consultations may also be held by a proprietary platform specifically meant for telemedicine. A patient portal enables your patients to set appointments and communicate with your practice via a secure channel.
The best telemedicine platform will be connected to other patient engagement tools and operated from a shared platform. This will allow the platform to integrate with practice technologies, making it easier for healthcare professionals to manage their patients' care.
When your platform connects to your other management software, this eases the processing of bills and uploading of clinical notes. The other beneficial features that your telemedicine solution should have are:
- Diagnostic hardware to allow a complete patient examination remotely.
- Annotation tools that allow note-taking directly on images to highlight problem areas.
A telemedicine appointment starts with a patient enlisting for service. You can have patients books an appointment through a phone call, app, or on your website. They will then sign in on the secure link you send them.
Also, any paperwork you need is sent beforehand to the patient. A telemedicine visit lasts for 15-30 minutes based on a condition’s complexity.
Here is a simple diagram depicting how your telemedicine software will work to allow patients access to medical care.
This video will also ease your understanding of the workings of telemedicine:
To use your telemedicine services, you will need a device that is internet-enabled and has a webcam. If you are using a video call, you will need a device with a screen to see and hear the doctor. If you are using a phone call, you will need a device with a phone line. There are no special technical skills the patient needs to take the call.
Here are a few tips you can give the patient to ease your telemedicine consultation:
- Have a list of his/her symptoms and concerns so that he/she does not forget anything important.
- They should ideally keep track of their symptoms and their changes.
- Have photos of the apparent symptoms if possible.
- Take the call from a quiet place. Have them free their schedule to only handle the call so that they are not distracted.
- Ensure their internet connection is working well and their phones are fully charged.
- Test their technology to ensure it will handle a video call seamlessly.
Benefits of Telemedicine and Access to Care
Telemedicine looks like a technology that is here to stay and change the whole healthcare infrastructure during these unprecedented times.
Telehealth is growing in popularity. In fact, 46% of consumers said they would use it in 2020 compared to 11% who said the same in 2019. This is likely due to the benefits it offers, such as being able to see healthcare professionals remotely. For patients:
- Telemedicine doctor visits take about 20% less time compared to in-person visits. This is because of the shorter wait times and improved speed of retrieving patient information from electronic health records.
- It reduces medical care costs. Telemedicine means that a patient can get medical care from almost anywhere. This negates the expenses of traveling to your clinic. You won't struggle to get someone to care for a child when coming to the hospital, or taking time off work.
- Telemedicine providers allow people in far-flung areas and those who cannot make it to your office to still access medical care.
- It improves patient health because they do not have to come into contact with people who have contagious diseases.
- It allows patients to get updates on their healthcare more frequently. Telemedicine solutions help with the regular tracking of chronic conditions or medical issues. This way, patients can quickly get medical attention in emergencies. For example, if blood pressure readings are deranged. This improves optimal patient outcomes and has been shown to contribute to the high satisfaction rates associated with telemedicine.
Refer to this diagram summarizing the benefits of telemedicine services for patients:
For health care providers:
- You will reduce the number of people waiting in your lobby for services. This increases satisfaction with in-person care, which reduces wait times while boosting satisfaction with telemedicine. A study found 94-99% of patients who had received telemedicine services to be very satisfied. Moreover, there is a reduced risk of cross-infection when people with contagious diseases come into contact with others.
- With telemedicine, you can serve and access more patients without hiring more wait staff or increasing your office space. The increased patient numbers and decreased operating expenses translate to increased revenue for your practice.
- You will have better chronic disease management among elderly patients, especially those with heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes. This is because physicians can monitor defined vitals in these patients and act appropriately if they fall outside the expected parameters.
The benefits of telemedicine go beyond patients and physicians to include health insurers. A Health Payer Intelligence study showed that telemedicine can reduce readmissions and rehospitalization of patients who suffer from chronic diseases. This means reduced insurance costs. Despite these benefits, remember that some problems like fractures, and severe burns, among other emergencies, need an in-office visit.
Work with NCDS: The Medical Billing Specialists
From the article above, you now know what to expect from an investment in telemedicine. There are some benefits to using telemedicine platforms, but healthcare organizations are hesitant to make the switch because of some barriers. One of the most common concerns among physicians is missing some of the revenue for their services.
Thankfully, insurance companies now cover the costs of telemedicine visits much like regular in-office visits. Most offices have streamlined their services to reflect these payments. However, it is easy to miss out on billing clients who pay for services in cash. To avoid missed cash or insurance payments, improve your cash flow and optimize your charge capture, you have NCDS medical billing.
NCDS is a company that specializes in billing for medical practices. This program allows access to financial information and sending insurance claims electronically in order to ensure prompt settlement by the insurer. With it, you are sure of making high profits from offering a wide range of telemedicine services.
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