by Marge Lewter
Recently, I interviewed Dr. Bill Frist regarding telemedicine and learned that this new technology is of great value for rural communities. You may know Dr. Frist as Senator Frist, but before he was a senator, he had a long career as a leading thoracic surgeon. Today, he continues his interest in medicine as it relates to rural communities and access to healthcare.
What is telemedicine? Dr. Frist explained that telemedicine is a delivery system that connects doctors with patients by way of electronic technology or media. “It is a tool for the practice of medicine, not the practice of medicine itself.”
For example, you could go to a website, enter your medical history and medications and get a consultation with a doctor. Perhaps you will be advised to seek care in the Emergency Room, or perhaps by videoconference, you could get a diagnosis right away. Once you have entered your medical history and insurance information, a board-certified doctor will call you within a few short minutes and you will pay for the consult by using the Internet payment system and your credit card. In most states, the consult qualifies for insurance reimbursement.
Why would a person choose telemedicine? Perhaps they have a simple question that needs an answer. Maybe they need help when the local doctor’s office is closed. If you work a 9 to 5 job, you cannot always take time off from work to make a doctor’s appointment. Possibly you have small children and cannot get a sitter so you can go to the doctor. Often, getting a doctor’s appointment in person can take weeks and you need help now! Telemedicine delivers healthcare efficiently to patients.
Dr. Frist explains that telemedicine with a qualified physician can give you accurate information quickly, thus avoiding delays in treatment. Though it is not a substitute for an in-person physical exam, it is well suited to continuing care of chronic diseases. Follow-up care and communication with medical professionals is enhanced by ease of access.
Mental health is an area that Dr. Frist believes is well suited to telemedicine because timeliness is critical to mental health services. From the privacy a patient’s own home they can receive psychiatric help.
Advantages of telemedicine include better management of chronic disease and improved access to professional advice. There are time and money savings for patients and insurance companies due to better care and reduced emergency room visits. In addition, patients will not have exposure to communicable diseases that may be present, such as during flu season. Disadvantages are that you may not develop a personal relationship with your physician, there is the chance of a misdiagnosis because of the lack of a hands -on physical exam, and it is not a substitute for emergency care.
In rural areas, there is limited access to doctors, and transportation to a facility can be difficult. The elderly often have to resort to an ambulance for transportation to a hospital in order to get medical help. Telemedicine is one way to connect doctors and patients across the miles, any time, day or night. There is no substitute for a trusting relationship with a physician who knows you, but in today’s world, medicine is rapidly changing and telemedicine is one change you will be seeing in the future.
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