Thanks to faster internet connections, smartphones, and changing standards in the insurance industry, telemedicine is finally starting to live up to the hype.
An increasing number of healthcare providers are offering their services electronically and treating their patients over the phone, through email, and via webcam. They’re also connecting with each other to make instant decisions in emergency situations. In less urgent cases, patients can share vital information with their doctors to better manage their conditions from home – without a visit to the office. Doctors Without Borders is using telemedicine to discuss cases and relay treatment information with medical practitioners in countries that are not as advanced in the medical field.
There are even hospitals and ICUs utilizing the technology to provide 24/7 care without requiring a doctor on site. Surprisingly, some of these places have seen a 35% decrease in the average length of stay for their patients and 30% fewer deaths. That means a thousand people who were otherwise expected to die were instead able to recover and go home.
More than 15 million Americans received this kind of care last year, and that number is expected to grow. Of course, there are still plenty of people who have never heard of telemedicine, and some who have still prefer to see their doctor in person. But while a small percentage of family physicians have actually used it, the overwhelming majority have said they would use it if proper compensation was offered.
There are also still many challenges and questions surrounding telemedicine. The laws that regulate it aren’t uniform across the nation, and they’re constantly changing. Critics also question whether those using telemedicine are sacrificing quality for convenience.
As of now, the most common form of telemedicine is the non-emergency type. Patients are connecting to doctors in regards to health problems like allergies, colds, earaches, and the like, and the prices are considerably cheaper. Rather than paying $100 for an office visit and up to $750 for going to the emergency room outside office hours, patients are only charged about $45. Numerous employers are beginning to offer this kind of healthcare in their insurance plans – 75%, up from the 48% of 2015.
However, insurers are less willing to accept these ideas and offer such options in their plans. Money seems to be at the root of the issue (isn’t it always?), as there are concerns about being paid when patients aren’t actually physically going to see their healthcare providers.
Telemedicine is also changing the way medical companies compete with each other. National insurers are beginning to offer programs where patients can speak to doctors across the country within their system. The goal is to make their practitioners more readily available and therefore encourage more people to choose their insurance providers for their health needs.
Telemedicine has the potential to completely shake up the industry and make healthcare more readily available for those who have trouble affording it. However, its future use depends largely on how its issues are addressed.
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