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How Telemedicine and Virtual Care are Changing Healthcare

Better technology, high speed internet, advanced mobile devices and changing insurance policies are just some of the driving forces behind the growing world of telemedicine, as noted by The Wall Street Journal.

Unfamiliar with the term? Telemedicine is an electronic way for patients and healthcare professionals to communicate, and it typically involves sharing media such as pictures, video or audio.

Telemedicine has huge implications for healthcare. Consider Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Mo.: 26 of the hospital’s 47 pediatric specialties are available across Kansas and Missouri via telemedicine, according to mHealthIntelligence.com. This hospital runs three telemedicine clinics that are staffed by trained nurse facilitators.

Chiron Health states that virtual health practices have been evolving ever since their inception in the 1950s. Today, you’ll see telemedicine capabilities in hospitals, homes, private physician offices and other healthcare facilities, according to eVisit.

History of Telemedicine

Telemedicine originally was developed for remote patients who did not have immediate access to doctors or specialists. But, as eVisit explains, healthcare professionals and the U.S. government saw how virtual medicine could help mitigate healthcare shortages and better reach urban populations as a whole. Telemedicine also can be valuable for some medical emergencies, as patients can easily share their health records or symptoms and immediately receive medical consultations.

In the 1960s, the U.S. government made significant investments, particularly from the Public Health Department, NASA, and the departments of Defense and Health and Human Sciences, to help encourage telemedicine research and development.

While originally used for patients in remote locations, the convenience of telemedicine is helping it gain popularity elsewhere. It still is used in cases of medical shortages and to treat those without convenient access to medical help, yet many patients are finding it faster and easier when they need immediate care.

According to Chiron Health, access to virtual care allows patients to:

  • Spend less time away from work
  • Not spend time or money traveling to and from a clinic or office
  • Have less interference with child or elder care responsibilities
  • Enjoy privacy
  • Avoid exposure to other potentially contagious patients

Providers also see benefits from telemedicine, including:

  • Improved office efficiency
  • Increased revenue
  • Better patient follow-through
  • Improved health outcomes
  • Fewer missed appointments or cancellations
  • Private payer reimbursement

Chiron Health states that telemedicine is commonly used for follow-up visits, management of chronic conditions, medication management, specialist consultation and many other clinical services that can be provided using video and audio.

Job Growth for Healthcare Workers

The American Telemedicine Association states that 15 million Americans used some sort of telemedicine last year, and that number is expected to grow by 30% this year, The Wall Street Journal reports. With this increase, Monster explains that more jobs are available for healthcare professionals.

While physicians are in demand to meet telemedicine needs, a variety of healthcare specialists also are needed to fill the range of virtual care jobs. Nurse case managers, in particular, are in high demand, according to Monster. Employers are looking for nurses who sincerely care for their patients’ success and who have excellent communication skills.

Recent Laws Regarding Telemedicine

MedPage Today explains that “no matter which type of telemedicine is employed, the regulations for it are based on the state in which the patient is located – that includes things such as licensure rules, practice standards and certification for allied health professionals like genetic counselors.” Recent legislation is encouraging, as more states are embracing virtual medicine practices. However, telemedicine has been a long-standing subject of debate in many states, especially when it comes to funding.

For example, Texas has for several years been the site of debates over the legality of telemedicine but has recently reached a compromise where virtual doctor visits may proceed under specific rules, as Medscape reports. Each state has very different laws, though, and most telemedicine is only covered by Medicaid, not by private insurers.

Medscape explains that states will cover telemedicine under Medicaid because they can make their own rules that are only subject to federal supervision. Private insurers, on the other hand, require states to pass laws that mandate health plan coverage, making it more difficult to enact.

State legislators often revisit the role of telemedicine and seem to be largely in favor, but more work needs to be done to implement further virtual care in many states.

The Importance of Nursing in Telemedicine

The Sentinel Watch notes that telemedicine is largely a nursing profession. “Telenursing” often has led both nurses and patients to great success. Because of that relationship, future expansion of telemedicine could very well depend on strong nursing leadership.

One way nurses can help make a difference within the world of telemedicine is by taking an active role in shaping state policy, according to the Sentinel Watch. Nurses should have a voice in the world of virtual care and be a part of advisory panels in order for real growth to continue.

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