It’s undeniable that technology has changed many aspects of life.
One example is the cellphone, which has revolutionized the communications industry – but related technology has transformed more than simply talking on the phone. These days, it’s also allowing folks to access health care.
Thanks to subsequent developments, the technology has allowed telemedicine to become a game-changing way of serving people throughout our communities and around the world. Today, simply having a smartphone gives individuals access to a provider within a few minutes, all in the comfort of one’s own home.
Some might wonder as to the reliability of telemedicine. While such concerns are understandable, there shouldn’t be any worry on that account. According to the American Telemedicine Association, more than 70 percent of illnesses seen in urgent care can be handled remotely via telemedicine. Physician training allows providers to treat minor problems – such as sinusitis, pharyngitis, upper respiratory illnesses and more – easily via video chat.
For those who haven’t jumped in and experienced telemedicine firsthand, the benefits are bountiful. The first one is time savings. A patient doesn’t have to use precious minutes in travel time, nor spend time waiting for a provider in an office. Telemedicine also eliminates the possibility of transmitting infectious diseases between patients and health care professionals.
But the concept’s benefits go far beyond simple time savings and infection prevention. It also offers significant cost savings. Instead of going to urgent care or an emergency room, patients are afforded substantial savings by simply being seen from home.
Of course, that said, a great opportunity tied to telemedicine is that it also can offer service from anywhere – including the office. That’s extremely beneficial for occupational medicine needs, which is another way telemedicine can beautifully augment a health care plan.
For example: When an employee is injured on the job, the employer is often responsible for paying that employee while they seek care. A lot of time can be lost as the patient drives to the clinic, waits and then drives back. This time can especially add up particularly in the Ozarks, where many areas in the region are rural and travel to specialists can easily translate into a significant period of time.
Previously, this travel time occasionally caused some to forgo medical care altogether because of the barrier of time away from work. Now, those employees can log on to a computer at work and visit with a provider within minutes. This is another example of where telemedicine helps close a gap. It keeps employees from taking significant time off from work and helps them stay close to home.
It should be noted, however, this new technology doesn’t completely replace traditional doctor visits. Some things only can be diagnosed in person. But with a thorough medical history review, a visual exam, an interview with the patient, as well as a provider’s training of pattern recognition, it often is possible to treat patients without physically being in the same room as them. CoxHealth launched its first foray into telemedicine in 2015 and has seen great success with the program. It’s been our experience that the vast majority of cases seen via telemedicine result in a diagnosis – and in the very few cases when telemedicine can’t be used to diagnosis the problem, it’s still a good entry point for intervention.
This success leads to my belief that telemedicine will only continue to grow, bringing in a new season for health care. In the future, remote underserved parts of the country will have access to board-certified physicians in almost every specialty. It can be difficult to get an appointment with primary care doctors and specialists. In many cases, the wait time can be weeks to months. With telemedicine, however, the patient will now never have to wait more than a few minutes. Those benefits – cost and time savings – are substantial.
Dr. Anjum Qureshi is the physician leader of CoxHealth’s DirectConnect Occupational Medicine program. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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