Physicians in certain parts of the world still make house calls, but they’re a rare breed. Today, most patients either go to a neighborhood clinic or hospital, or make a quick trip to a pharmacy for instant relief. Patients who prefer to get treated in the comfort of their own home have another option too: telemedicine. And although this medical practice might not sound familiar to some, it has been around for years.
A key element in making telemedicine work is technology, which comprises video-teleconferencing equipment, a fast and steady internet connection, and the latest, advanced telemedicine software. Because this special type of medical practice requires a highly visual interaction, these elements are indispensable.
Healthcare businesses and individual medical practices with a telemedical capability also need to comply with the regulations of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH), and other healthcare legislation. Mostly, these regulations involve compliance with the handling and storage of personally identifiable patient data.
To make telemedicine effective, healthcare providers need to exert as much effort and follow the same rules as a traditional medical practice. Is it an option truly worth considering?
Telemedicine solves the basic problem of access. For example, if a patient in a far-flung Nigerian town needs to see a specialist based in the US, telemedicine can make that possible. In a less complicated medical situation, telemedicine solves the problems of mobility. Without having to go to the hospital for treatment, a patient can conveniently dial or log in to an online system to consult a doctor.
One of the more problematic aspects of a doctor’s visit is the long wait. Often, wait times take much longer than the actual consultation. Patients with a minor illness would rather self-medicate than visit a hospital and be met with a long queue. With telemedicine, the waiting can be done in the comfort of the patient’s own home.
Seeing your physician online doesn’t mean a diminished quality of care — provided, of course, that all devices, telemedicine software, and other technical aspects work seamlessly. In some instances, remote medical care enhances patient experience. Follow-ups, post-operation check-ups, and quick consultations can be done using a desktop computer, laptop, or tablet, thereby reducing the possibility of missing an appointment.
That’s not just referring to the transportation expense of going to the doctor’s; the actual cost of an in-person visit is much higher than the cost of a virtual one. For minor ailments like colds and flu, a physical visit to the clinic might set you back as much as $100; whereas a virtual one, only $45.
Telemedicine is not taking over conventional medicine — it augments it. Substantially. Patients can expect an expansion of this practice in many medical providers, while healthcare providers can expect rapid growth in telemedical technology, especially as healthcare compliance requirements evolve.
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