Telemedicine uses technology to provide health careWritten by Staff Reports | | firstname.lastname@example.org
By Dave Kubacki, Toledo Free Press Staff Writer
From travel time to time spent waiting in the office and examination room, a trip to the doctor’s office can sometimes feel like full day’s work. However, technology such as Apple’s FaceTime, Skype and other videoconferencing platforms is allowing some patients to get some of that time back.
Telemedicine is the use of information and communication technology to provide the delivery of health care when distance separates the participants. The term covers a variety of services, said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor of the University of Toledo Medical Center.
“Just like distance learning means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, distance in medicine can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people,” said Gold, who is also
dean of the UT College of Medicine and executive vice president for biosciences and health affairs. “It can mean anything from answering a phone call, sending a voicemail, sending a text message, to doing robotic surgery on the other side of the world.”
While many benefits of telemedicine are already being realized, such as being able to send images, cardiograms, X-rays, CT scans and MRIs electronically, there are still countless more benefits possible, Gold said.
Telemedicine allows better access to specialty expertise for remote and underserved populations, reduces costs and waiting times of preclinical or clinical evaluations and allows for the delivery of information across large geographical spaces in short periods of time.
Telemedicine could make the practice of medicine much different in the future, Gold said.
“When there is no physical examination involved and the appointment is more of a discussion, telemedicine might lend itself tremendously,” Gold said. “Why drive for some period of time, sit in someone’s office or wait around in an exam or consultation room? I would much rather give the patient all of that time back to do the things that are important in his or her life.”
Telemedicine often proves beneficial for medical specialties with physician shortages, said Dr. Daniel Rapport, UT associate professor of psychiatry.
“There simply aren’t enough psychiatrists,” Rapport said. “If you are trying to help underserved areas like some western states with little access to psychiatric care, you could interview patients and provide quality care to those patients and possibly improve outcomes. If you were able to do this with experts in schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, you could get some people well who haven’t been well in a long time.”
While there are many clear benefits to telemedicine, many physicians have concerns with the lack of face-to-face time with health care providers.
“If you are dealing with certain patients, not being with the patient could prove problematic as you can’t develop the same type of therapeutic alliance,” Rapport said. “However, some people who are in desperate need of skilled psychiatric or specialty care, aren’t going to get it without the use of telemedicine. If done right, telemedicine could be a very helpful intervention and could be potentially as helpful as traditional care.”
While a number of providers and organizations have piloted successful telemedicine programs, Gold said there has been difficulty in sustaining and adopting its widespread use and challenges that need to be addressed before telemedicine becomes sustainable.
“Part of the problem is that if you are going to use it, there has to be a system so that the physician or health care provider gets paid for the services that they rendered,” Gold said. “Right now, not every commercial insurance carrier and government insurance carrier is actually paying for these services. This is one of the reasons why even the most successful pilot programs have not been sustainable. Once this issue and the issue of being able to use the license across state borders are resolved, I think the [use of telemedicine] will move pretty quickly because if you are licensed to provide this service, payers are going to be in the position of picking that up.”