Even before COVID-19 changed the healthcare landscape, the use of remote technologies to bring doctors and patients together had established itself as one of medicine’s most important innovations. There are numerous technologies that fall under the general heading of “Remote Care,” including telemedicine, telehealth, remote patient monitoring, mHealth, and more. Right Path Pain and Spine Center in Davenport, FL is now offering its expert care through these remote clinical services.
It’s All Remote Healthcare
There’s been much confusion over terminology and categorizations when it comes to remote healthcare. The basic idea is much the same for all of them. The doctor is able to see the patient, or the patient’s current healthcare data, remotely, without the patient needing to physically visit the office. Telemedicine, telehealth, virtual visits, e-visits, mobile health, and RPM are just a few of the names and acronyms that fall under this heading.
What Is Telehealth?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ official definition is “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration.” The key technologies that make these visits possible are the internet plus videoconferencing and other live and recorded digital media.
Telehealth is the overarching top-level name for everything that’s possible in remote healthcare services. While telehealth does include direct and indirect exchanges between doctors and patients, the term also covers non-clinical applications. This can include everything from medical staff meetings and training to continuing education for physicians and nurses.
What Is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine is a subset of telehealth. It’s the term used for the delivery of physician services from a doctor to a patient using remote technologies. Even though all telemedicine is telehealth, not all telehealth is telemedicine.
Telemedicine visits are usually conducted in synchronous “real time” through a live videoconferencing feature used by both doctor and patient. The patient often uses a smartphone to conference with the doctor, although any computer with a camera, microphone, and speakers can serve. These real-time sessions are typically called “virtual visits.”
More Than One Type of Telemedicine
Real-time virtual visits with the doctor are just one form of telemedicine. Other exchanges that don’t take place “live” are called “store-and-forward” (asynchronous) sessions. Photos, wellness data such as collected vital signs and other patient information are sent via email or other computer transfer to the doctor for analysis and therapeutic recommendation.
Another type of telemedicine is called “remote patient monitoring,” or RPM. In this method, the patient uses monitoring technology at home that captures health data over time and sends it to a cloud-based service. From there, the doctor retrieves it, examines it, and intervenes with the patient, if necessary. Common technologies for remote patient monitoring include wearables for heart rate and oxygen levels (pulse oximetry), blood pressure cuffs, and blood glucose measuring devices for diabetics.
Why Remote Care?
Telemedicine has emerged as a solution that serves both patient convenience and the increasing need for greater efficiency on the healthcare provider side. For many patients, especially the elderly and those living in rural areas, a physical visit to the doctor can be a difficult inconvenience. Missing out on medical care for these reasons often leads to a worsening of the condition due to non-treatment.
For doctors and their staffs, telemedicine and remote patient monitoring are a way to keep closer to the patient’s wellness or recovery trajectory over time. The easier it is for them to “see” the patient and examine symptoms, vital signs, and progress, the better the level of care. Remote care also allows the doctor to see more patients and engage with patients more easily. This “on-demand” model is increasingly becoming an important standard of care.
Does It Replace the Physical Visit?
In many cases, a virtual visit to the doctor is largely identical to an in-person visit. The patient is still spending face-to-face time with the doctor, and the fact that the doctor can’t physically touch the patient’s body will be immaterial for many situations. Most remote visits deal with chronic conditions that are ongoing for the patient, such as diabetes, COPD, and arthritis. Many others are to monitor progress from the doctor’s prescribed regimen, such as medications or physical therapy.
For these and other medical situations, a virtual visit can be thought of as an extension to in-person care. Some conditions require an initial in-person physical examination, but the follow-up visits can be done virtually. The patient doesn’t need to travel back and forth and sit in a waiting room simply to let the doctor know they’re feeling better (or not). Via telemedicine, doctors can hear the patient describe their condition and make decisions whether further treatment, imaging, or medications are the appropriate next course.
Enabling Proactive Care
One of the most important features of remote care is that its convenience allows many medical problems to be addressed before they escalate into something more serious. Many people don’t visit the doctor because they can’t find the time, or because they can’t arrange to have time away from work. In the age of COVID, many patients simply don’t want to leave home unless absolutely necessary.
Putting off medical care is never a good idea. Left untreated, troubling physical symptoms that could have been diagnosed and nipped in the bud often lead to a need for next-level care. This can mean anything from a visit to an urgent care center to a trip to the emergency room of a hospital. Both are costly, time-consuming events that a prompt virtual visit could have prevented. The convenience of telehealth lets patients stay ahead of health problems before they can get worse.
Why Patients Like It
Remote care has been around in one form or another since the 1950s. Modern enabling technologies like smartphones, broadband internet access, and wearables have now established it as a mainstream tool for healthcare. Patients often like virtual visits better than in-person sessions. Here are a few reasons why:
In-person doctor’s appointments can be a serious inconvenience. The time taken away for travel to and from the office, plus time spent in the waiting room is generally far longer than the amount of time actually spent with the doctor. Time away from work or family responsibilities can be challenging, which makes it difficult to keep up with care issues. Virtual visits eliminate these obstacles.
Many patients live in rural or underserved regions where there aren’t enough doctors to satisfy the need. For these people, virtual visits open major new access to healthcare. For other people in more populous areas, the mainstreaming of virtual visits gives the patient more choices. For example, a specialist doesn’t have to be selected simply because of geographical reasons.
Taking time off for a doctor’s appointment in the middle of a workday can be expensive. For some it means lost wages, for others, it’s the expense of hiring a babysitter. For everyone, it means expenses incurred in terms of transportation and time. With virtual visits, these indirect healthcare costs are eliminated.
Why Doctors Like It
Telemedicine and remote care benefit the doctor as much as the patient. With 73 million Baby Boomers turning senior and requiring more health services, the strains on our healthcare system are increasingly challenging. Telemedicine eases the load through professional benefits such as:
Improved Patient Care
Telehealth allows the doctor to more easily stay engaged with a patient’s health over time. The ease of follow-up care, whether in real-time or through the information that’s been transferred to the doctor (vital signs, pain levels, photos of injuries) not only ensures the effectiveness of prescribed treatments, but it can also identify problems that might lead to a more serious escalation, like a hospitalization.
Doctors don’t like it any better than patients when there’s time wasted in the waiting room. For patients with chronic conditions that require multiple visits, the frustration can lead to missed appointments and a decline in health. With remote visits, both doctor’s and patient’s time are spent more efficiently: all the time is spent on the patient session. There are fewer missed appointments.
Professional and Personal Satisfaction
With so much strain on today’s healthcare system, doctors are challenged to keep up with the demands on their time. Telemedicine eases their burden and lowers professional stress by making it easier and more convenient to keep engaged with their patients. Not only does this give them greater professional satisfaction in terms of better care delivery, but it also helps them with work/life balance, which makes for happier doctors and better care.
Is It Secure?
By now, everyone is aware of hackers and other malicious actors on the internet. In 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) to ensure patient’s control over their healthcare information. HIPAA also includes a privacy rule to protect sensitive healthcare information from unauthorized access and misuse.
Our doctors offer telemedicine services using a HIPAA-compliant platform that keeps the visit cyber-secure. If data is exchanged as part of a store-and-forward visit, that data is given protection as well. The patient logs into a secure area for the visit that nobody can see except the patient and the doctor.
Will My Insurance Pay?
Insurance providers, especially Medicare, have been hard at work for several years in bringing coverage guidelines up to date with technological possibilities. Many, if not most, large healthcare insurers now cover remote visits, but there is currently no national or state-wide standard for private health insurance reimbursement. In some cases, the insurer will cover a virtual visit, but only with prior approval.
While COVID-19 has been speeding the growth of remote care faster than legislation can keep up with it, many patients simply prefer to pay out of pocket for the visit. Virtual visits out of pocket can be less expensive than office visits, considering travel and time lost. They are also much less expensive than trips to an urgent care center or emergency room for a problem ignored.
How Does It Work?
Patients log into their virtual visit using a computer, tablet, or smartphone – any device that has a camera, microphone, and speaker. The doctor sends a special link and the patient signs in via the web. The connection is HIPAA-compliant and fully secure. The software prompts the patient to make sure that the sound and video are working; there are quick checks for these features. Then, the video visit simply begins. The doctor will end the session when the visit is over.
In these days where everyone is careful in terms of going out in public, remote care from your doctor is more than just a convenience. Patients are enthusiastically enjoying the convenience and efficiency of telehealth. If you haven’t tried one yet, schedule an e-visit appointment with Right Path Pain and Spine Center in Davenport, FL and you’ll soon see why!