A few years back I had an article published in a consumer magazine that was sold at newsstands and bookstores. This was a first for me since up to that point all of my writing had been for a niche nursing magazine that was delivered to subscribers’ homes. One of my friends congratulated me and pointed out that my article was next to a piece by Oprah’s self-help expert Dr. Phil McGraw. I think my friend’s observation was meant to imply that I had hit the big time if my work was adjacent to someone as famous (or infamous) as Dr. Phil. My response was, “I’m not sure how I feel about being that close to Dr. Phil.”
Well, once again I share something in common with Dr. Phil. That something—telehealth. I work for a company that provides workplace injury triage via the telephone (which sometimes people forget is considered telehealth). Dr. Phil and his son Jay are co-founders of Doctor on Demand, a company that provides access to health care providers in the form of video visits. Patients can use their personal computers or mobile devices to have consultations with physicians, psychologists, and lactation consultants, which as a new mom I think is particularly genius.
Teleheath, also at times called telemedicine, is not a new concept.
According to the WHO, it started taking shape in the 1960s and 1970s in the military and space technology sectors. NASA used it to keep tabs on the health of the first astronauts sent into space. But as technology has become less expensive and simpler to use, telehealth has been able to grow in scope and use. As this news brief from the Journal of AHIMA reports, a study that defined telemedicine as video consultations with physicians found that the number of video consults “will grow from 900,000 in 2013 to 22.6 million in 2018.”
That’s a huge increase and the study only included one aspect of telehealth (video consultations). There are many other forms of telehealth so I’d expect growth potential to be even higher. The company I work for seems to be adding clients left and right and growing at a steady rate. In my position as a telephonic triage nurse, I don’t use video at all. We use the telephone, a computer and very well-developed triage algorithms to assess injured employees and make care recommendations.
My personal experience has shown me that telehealth can help patients or, in my case injured employees, get the appropriate care and save on health care costs. Patients can be assessed to determine if they can safely use self-care measures to treat their injury and avoid costly and unnecessary trips to an emergency room. On the flip side, helping employees realize they need prompt medical treatment for an injury helps avoid complications that are both harmful to the patient and cost more than nipping any problems in the bud.
My experience may be anecdotal but there reports that validate my opinion on telemedicine. A December 2014 Healthcare IT Market Intelligence Report by Mercom Capital Group highlights some successful ways telemedicine is being used. The Indian Health Services has used it to deliver care, including specialty services like cardiology, to patients who live in rural settings. In Alaska, telehealth has been used to decrease wait times for patients in Nome needing to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. Before the use of telehealth, 47 percent of patients waited 5 months or longer for an in-person ENT visit. After implementing telehealth consultations the percentage of patients waiting that long dropped to 3 percent after three years.
It’s not just me and Dr. Phil who see the value in telehealth. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released a proposal to expand Medicare-reimbursable telehealth activities.
In August 2014, my Kevin Riddleberger from iTriage shared some data on consumer readiness to use telehealth on this blog. In a survey he cited, 85 percent of respondents had never heard of or used telehealth service. I think that is about to change and the rates of patients using telehealth with increase rapidly.
What makes me so sure? Dr. Phil. If he’s on board, telehealth is on the cusp of becoming mainstream. To borrow his catchphrase: I’m just telling it like it is.
Jennifer Thew, RN, MSJ
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