What's not to like about telemedicine? The vital signs of patients can be monitored from afar, patients don't have to leave their homes when they're sick, and can consult with their doctors over the phone, by email, or even by Skype.
Hospitals use telemedicine to access the best medical minds in the country. Patient test results can be reviewed in top-notch medical facilities hundreds of miles away, and the vital signs of patients in ICU units of remote hospitals can be monitored by renowned medical establishments, such as the Mayo clinic. Medical experts can spot problems and dispense instructions to nurses and other hospital personnel who are giving the patient hands-on care.
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine can improve the management of chronic diseases, and leads to fewer or shorter hospital stays.
In addition, telemedicine can save money — lots of money. A report from the research firm Towers Watson found that telemedicine may help employers save $6 billion each year in insurance costs.
So who could be against such a step forward in medical care? Both the federal government and the American Medical Association (AMA); Medicare refuses to pay doctors unless they provide hands-on care, and the AMA's official position is that doctors must be physically present to provide proper care.
According to Forbes, Medicare pays doctors to perform 7,500 tasks, but talking on the phone isn't on the list. Neither is email. But when a Texas-based firm called Teladoc provided telephone consultations to new patients for $40 (the doctor having access to patients' medical records) in contrast to the local going price of $125 for a face-to-face doctor's visit, the Texas Medical Board fought back, saying they were only protecting patients.
Their reasoning won't pass the smell test, says Forbes, since it's perfectly acceptable for a patient to get a prescription from an "on call" doctor you've never meet who is filling in for your regular doctor and may not even check your medical records when ordering the prescription. The real reason is that Teladoc is a threat to lowering doctors' incomes.
Instead of fighting, the medical profession should be embracing the change in technology, which will lower costs, raise quality, and improve access to care, John C. Goodman writes in Forbes.
The Dallas Morning News reported that video health visits will skyrocket. The market analysis firm predicted video consults will increase from 19.7 million in 2014 to 158.4 million by 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control says there are 1.25 billion patient visits each year to doctor offices, outpatient clinics, and emergency rooms. According to Forbes, Teladoc could replace a third of those visits.
"The good news is that we have evidence telemedicine works, is safe, and cost effective," former U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist, M.D., wrote in Forbes.
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