Telehealth – Healthcare IT’s New Land of OpportunityMay 10, 2011 No Comments
After years of debate, healthcare reform is evolving from policy to reality—and already beginning to influence the behaviors of patients and healthcare providers around the country. In the effort to make healthcare more accessible and affordable, one would expect the role of enabling technologies to be front and center. All too often, however, when it comes to healthcare, technology gets a bit part.
Despite the rise in demand for new delivery models, web-based healthcare tools have lagged behind other industries. Today, consumers can easily go online to plan travel, do their banking and buy or sell goods and services. These online consumer tools share several key attributes: they are available when and where you are, offer choices, provide immediate service, and most importantly, focus on “transactions”—purchasing plane tickets, making a hotel reservation, transferring funds or buying a new laptop.
In contrast, nearly all existing healthcare websites focus on sharing information alone. Consumers can click a variety of links to find more information about various ailments, or maybe even email a question to a healthcare “expert” and get a response a day or two later. While this is valuable, ultimately a person with a medical problem wants to connect with a physician and execute a “transaction” in a prompt manner. From a consumer’s standpoint, a healthcare transaction means a real-time conversation in which a physician reviews your health history, evaluates your health status and helps determine the best course of action—be it tests, a referral to a specialist, or a prescription.
Until recently, this type of transaction was only offered in physician offices and hospitals. Enter a collection of technologies known as “telehealth.” Simply defined, telehealth technologies enable the delivery of medical care using telecommunications, including phone, email, Internet and other channels. In past years, the application of telehealth was interpreted narrowly to mean the use of technology to overcome physical distance. Now, it means that a patient can go online and see a qualified physician—including her own physician—rather than having to make an appointment, wait, drive to the office, and wait some more, taking hours away from work and family.
As a result, many in the industry are acknowledging that telehealth can be part of the solution for healthcare reform. In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama called out telehealth’s promise. By advocating “a patient who can have face-to-face video chats with her doctor,” he acknowledged that telehealth is evolving from option to a necessity for healthcare providers and consumers.
Just two months later, it became clear that others in the government had reached a similar conclusion. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released proposed new rules to define how doctors, hospitals and other stakeholders will provide more coordinated care for Medicare patients through so-called Accountable Care Organizations. Those outside of the industry may never have the pleasure of perusing the many hundreds of pages of rules. But, suffice it to say, that telehealth technologies are a key pillar of making this vision a reality. The path to improving healthcare included the need to “define processes to promote evidence-based medicine and patient engagement, report on quality and cost measures and coordinate care through the use of telehealth, remote patient monitoring and other technologies.”HEALTH IT