Telehealth Offers Affordable and Accessible Healthcare for All

Nina Dunn's picture

Today, the American healthcare system faces grave challenges, from a rapidly aging population and a desperate lack of quality healthcare providers to a need to reign in healthcare costs to save the system from insolvency. These factors — and many others — all signal tough times ahead for American consumers, but where some have seen hardship, others have seen opportunity. One field that is leading the way is telehealth.

Telehealth — a system of remote care delivery — can be as simple as health-related email communications and video conferencing with a professional, or as complicated as robot-assisted surgeries, controlled by doctors hundreds of miles away.
The most common forms of telehealth consist of real-time telecommunications between a care provider and a patient, and remote patient monitoring that allows a specialist to collect and analyze vitals, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
In addition, with the help of telehealth technologies doctors can update drug prescriptions, follow up with patients and even transmit medical data and images. All of these services are offered in a time efficient and practical fashion — which is often more than we can say for current facilities.
Telehealth will offer every American the opportunity to access quality healthcare, no matter their location. This is an especially salient point for those in rural areas where specialists are few, or even in urban areas where medical facilities price themselves beyond the reach of many patients. This increased access to medical care, will encourage people to “visit” their physician more often, allowing doctors to catch illnesses sooner and recommend preventative courses of medicine rather relying on reactive treatment options. This will lead to fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits.
The key to success of telehealth rests on its adoption within the professional healthcare community, and unfortunately, at the moment physicians lack financial incentive to embrace the technology. Already restricted by limited budgets and other resources, healthcare practitioners can’t afford to treat patients remotely as no compensation method exists — yet. Without a comprehensive pricing model, overstretched physicians are understandably reluctant to increase their workloads. Doctors have a large influence on the way patients choose to receive healthcare, and consequently, unless they are on board, telehealth will fail (a lesson learned by the short-lived Google Health).
For telehealth to succeed, there is a need for policy that will put pressure on insurance companies to create a reimbursement system for doctors providing telehealth services. This month, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed to change the definition of telehealth services, making them eligible for Medicare coverage. This is a step in the right directions, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
This isn’t to say that telehealth isn’t gaining momentum, it most certainly is. Americans are becoming more open to the concept of telehealth, and as a result, Fortune 500 tech companies are entering the market with new technologies. Consequently, more and more telehealth-related articles are appearing in the national media. But for this awareness to translate into a tangible market, two things must happen: the issue of reimbursement has to be resolved, and the technology will need to mature and improve. By continuing to raise awareness about the benefits of telehealth and barriers standing to its adoption, we can hope that in a few more years telehealth will become a part of healthcare for every American.
Nina Dunn is an account director and media specialist at Spector & Associates. In her current role, Nina works with the agency’s healthcare and technology clients, helping them develop effective thought leadership campaigns and communications strategies. You can reach her at Nina@SpectorPR.com or follow her @Spector_Health.

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