Telemedicine’s Tipping Point and Healthcare Management

Telemedicine's Tipping Point and Healthcare ManagementMuch of healthcare executives’ time is spent trying to navigate changes in economics, demographics, regulation, and market demands. In general, care providers are expected to do more with greater efficiency under more stringent requirements and conditions while bringing in less money.

Technology is supposed to be a tool to help solve the problems. Electronic medical records are intended to speed information delivery where needed. Clinical software can track results, suggest best practices, and alert professionals to take the next step in a preferred protocol. But it is also a disruptive force in its own right. Take telemedicine.

Also called telehealth, the delivery of care at a distance via phone, video, and Internet completely overturns many assumptions about how professionals can and should do their work. Patients can be hundreds or thousands of miles away. Specialists can provide expertise far more easily.

According to a review article in the New England Journal of Medicine (behind a paywall), the practice is moving into wider acceptance and application. Health Data Management, which wrote about the article’s content, categorizing it as an expectation of a “tipping point” in telehealth.

The reason is three factors: the ability for telemedicine to broaden general access to care, more easily connect specialists with doctors at trauma facilities and acute situations, and a movement in use beyond clinics to people’s homes, a virtual version of the old house call.

“There isn’t any question about it—telehealth has major momentum now, despite some of the obstacles such as reimbursement,” says [Ray Dorsey, MD, director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, N.Y.] “It’s made tremendous inroads in a very short amount of time. What we’ve learned is that telemedicine is a very efficient way to expend medical care, and it’s going to grow over time. At some point in the future, within the next decade, it will likely be the most dominant form of physician-patient interaction.”

Beyond the marvels, however, come considerations for industry executives and managers. Here are just a few:

  • How do you handle staffing and make expertise, especially of specialists, available? Will you have people on call or staffed? If on call, do they work from their homes?
  • What are the security considerations? If people work from home, how to do you ensure their systems are sufficiently locked down? Is sensitive data potentially opened to interception?
  • While useful, there is only so much a professional can do remotely. Eventually they will want to perform diagnostic tests, require blood work, and otherwise need the patient at some physical facility.
  • Will there need to be new diagnostic and billing codes?
  • Are there potential liability risks for errors that might be caught in person?

The positive potential for the technology is strong. However, those in administration need to think through the possible problems and find solutions.

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