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Why telemedicine needs more than just video chat to be successful 

telemedicine, telehealth, doctor, patient, physician

I’ve worked in the healthcare field for decades. As I reflect on the recent crisis my colleagues and I (and the world) are faced with, it’s no secret that we have been skyrocketed forward in how we must now access healthcare — patients and providers alike.

As a direct result of Covid-19, telemedicine has experienced explosive growth. As people grow fearful of venturing out into public with germs and viruses, doctors and patients are realizing that telehealth, which is hardly a new concept, is not as difficult a transition as they thought it would be. In reality, virtually connecting with patients can save providers time and money if they are able to use a platform that can encompass all of the tools needed to run their entire practice from the inside of their homes.

The big difference in how telemedicine is being used now, compared to in the past, is that providers use it intentionally and can bill for it, and patients are seeking it out. Before this global pandemic, telemedicine was a nice-to-have but now it’s a necessity.

Several years ago, practices used telemedicine as a way to diagnose thousands of patients’ spine conditions. Patients would fill out web forms or call directly requesting a review of their spine MRI which was all done by phone and/or email. With a confirmed diagnosis by telemedicine, patients would travel to the nearest spine center for a procedure.

In my opinion, there are three ways you can approach telemedicine moving forward:

The first is for providers to use existing tools such as FaceTime, Skype and Zoom to conduct virtual consults with their patients. This poses a myriad of issues related to privacy since these services are not required to be HIPAA-compliant, and the doctor has to physically write down and record everything from the visit to then input the information into that particular patient’s medical record or EMR.

The second way to approach telemedicine is using a ‘call center’ type platform that will virtually connect patients with a provider that they’ve never met before and will probably never speak to again after their visit. These visits are problematic as providers don’t know the patient’s medical history and are relying on that patient’s (often unreliable) personal recollection of medications taken in the past and previous health issues. Call center doctors are making diagnoses based on a very surface level conversation without really knowing a patient’s full medical background.

The third, and in my opinion most effective, way to have a mutually productive and beneficial virtual visit is through a platform that will allow patients to connect with their own provider. A platform that is HIPAA-compliant and can be easily downloaded by a provider that has a pre-existing relationship with the patient is the optimal way to have an accurate, effective and positive telemedicine visit. Additionally, providers and patients should be utilizing a platform that saves data recorded from each visit, and automatically uploads that information into the patient’s EMR and the provider’s system, minimizing the risk of lost files, patient histories and saving both parties precious time.

Covid-19 has pushed the industry into testing the healthcare at home model where the future will allow patients better and safer access to care, moving away from hospitals and going somewhere to see a doctor. For physicians and medical staff, they will become more nimble. There will most likely be some consolidation in the telemedicine space and a lot of diagnostic devices developed for at-home use.

Photo: verbaska_studio, Getty Images

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