Telemedicine is a rapidly expanding area of healthcare delivery that involves the use of telecommunication and information technologies to provide clinical healthcare at a distance. It allows two-way communication between healthcare providers and individuals at any location. Examples are patients located in rural areas or individuals who cannot—or have difficulty in—traveling to a hospital or clinic. In an article published on February 3 in Health Affairs, three healthcare experts highlighted the value of personal health technologies, to both providers and patients.
The article, Connected Health: A Review of Technologies and Strategies to Improve Patient Care With Telemedicine and Telehealth, was authored by Dr. Molly Joel Coye, chief innovation officer, UCLA Health System, Dr. Joseph C. Kvedar, director, Center for Connected Health, Partners HealthCare; and Wendy Everett, president, Network for Excellence in Health Innovation (NEHI). The authors note that the implementation of Obamacare is causing millions of additional Americans to access the already overloaded healthcare system. They explain that the application of telemedicine will ease the strain by making healthcare delivery more efficient and cost-effective.
Dr. Kvedar explained, “The widespread adoption of connected health clearly has the potential to extend care across populations of both acute and chronically ill patients, by electronically connecting patients and healthcare providers and helping keep patients healthy at home. Connected health programs facilitate remote diagnosis and treatment, continuous monitoring and real-time adjustment of therapies and support for patient self-care.” Dr. Coye added, “Our healthcare system has not solved the coming mismatch between our supply of providers and growing demand for care from consumers and patients, and this problem will only be more pronounced with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Connected health and asynchronous provider-to-patient communication can create a model of care that improves access and quality of care while decreasing costs and more efficiently utilizing our limited healthcare resources.”
The authors cautioned that three essential criteria must be met in order for telemedicine to succeed: (1) assurance that this new model of care delivery does not sacrifice the quality of care; (2) provider financial incentives must be set at a level that will produce desired outcomes; and (3) health policy research must be conducted to evaluate the quality and cost impacts of future connected health services.
The article concludes with a call to action that urges government agencies, academia, patient advocacy groups, and private sector organizations to rapidly test, evaluate, deploy and pay for new care models that integrate connected health technologies and programs. Dr. Everett noted, “Telemedicine has, over the past four decades, become an increasingly cost-effective approach to care delivery. A golden opportunity exists today, to create a truly innovative, efficient delivery system within the structure of national health reform. Physician and nurse champions must take the lead in ensuring that providers embrace these emerging models of care management.”