What Healthcare Professionals Need to Know Before Moving Into Telemedicine
Telemedicine, or the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by utilizing online communications technologies, is a growing field that is designed to bring professional medical treatment to people who live in remote areas or are otherwise unable to obtain healthcare. While it might seem like a great career move for you as a healthcare professional, there are definitely a few things you need to know if you’re considering taking the step into telemedicine.
How Does It Work?
Telemedicine, as a whole, is built on a foundation made up of the Internet and all of our connected mobile devices. It enables healthcare professionals to connect with patients though video chat, smart phone apps and other types of telecommunications technology. By utilizing programs like Skype, FaceTime or other proprietary programs, patients who cannot come to the doctor’s office because of lack of transportation, living in a rural area or any other reason can still “visit” a doctor.
As long as you, as a professional, are licensed to practice medicine in the state where the patient resides, telemedicine is a legal way to expand your practice and reach people who might otherwise not have the way to get the help they need.
What Can Be Accomplished?
This will vary greatly depending on where you are practicing, but in general, telemedicine has many uses, such as:
- After-hours care: The ability to provide care to patients who are unable to visit an office during normal hours becomes much easier with telemedicine.
- Medication management/adherence: Telemedicine can make it easier and more practical to talk with a patient to ensure there are no problems with medications and that they are taking medication as prescribed.
- Chronic care/follow up appointments: Since a relationship has already been established between the patient and the healthcare professional, follow up appointments can easily be done by utilizing telemedicine.
There will always be some things, like blood work and lab tests, that do require a trip to a local lab or office. For basic diagnoses and treatment, however, telemedicine can be a great option. This can, of course, also be customized to best suit the needs of each patient.
How Do I Get Paid?
Payment for medical services is already so complicated that there is an entire subsection of the industry dedicated to figuring out the idiosyncrasies of the process. Those same complications apply to telemedicine as well.
There are different guidelines for each of the three major players in the medical payment industry — Medicaid, Medicare and private insurance companies. These regulations are being expanded as telemedicine becomes a more prevalent form of practice, but right now it can be difficult or nearly impossible to get proper compensation for telemedicine appointments.
Ensuring medical professionals receive fair and accurate compensation for their work is one of the most important components necessary to secure the success of this growing field. This can be achieved by regulating hours and offering consultation services for doctors and other healthcare professionals seeking to enter the field of telemedicine to be certain they understand the nuances of the payment system.
What Are the Benefits of Telemedicine?
Telemedicine has the potential to have a tremendous impact on the world of medicine. Video chats, for example, allow face-to-face communication between the doctor and patient and provide a great tool for diagnosis. Imagine being a dermatologist trying to diagnose a rash over the phone. Just being able to see what the patient is describing makes a world of difference.
It is also a low cost option that allows people who might not be able to afford treatment otherwise to get the help that they need. It’s a great option for rural areas as well, since these locations tend to have a lower number of practicing healthcare professionals per capita.
For the patients themselves, especially in areas where the population is high or the doctor’s offices and urgent care clinics are always crowded, telemedicine is a great option. It allows patients to get the help they need without spending their entire day sitting in a crowded waiting room or at the ER. It’s also a perfect option for people who work during normal office hours, allowing them to speak to a physician when it best fits their schedule.
Are There Any Risks?
As with any advance in technology, there are always risks when it comes to network security and the privacy of patient information. Those risks can be minimized, though, by utilizing security tools or even tasking a cyber security firm with the protection of your network.
There is also the risk of licensing issues, as we briefly mentioned earlier. To practice using telemedicine, you do have to hold an active medical license in the state where your patient lives. This isn’t often a problem for patients who come to the office, but those treated using telemedicine could potentially be calling in from anywhere in the country or the world, creating potential issues.
Overall, while there are a few risks inherent with the practice of telemedicine, the benefits greatly outweigh any potential problems that might occur. It is important to have all of the information handy before you consider a move into telemedicine, however. While fairly intuitive, it does require training and preparation to property treat your virtual patients.