If there's one technology that has the potential to fundamentally change access to healthcare in rural areas, it's surely telehealth. Small and rural hospitals are already taking advantage of the technology for services that are especially well-suited to virtual care, such as dermatology and other consults that benefit from today's high-definition digital cameras and monitors.
Teleradiology's been around in one form or another for a while—it doesn't really matter where images are read, as well as they're read and reported accurately. Telestroke and e-ICUs are also showing up in an increasing number of organizations.
That's backed by the 2011 HealthLeaders Media Industry Survey of technology leaders, which found 46% of respondents already have one or more telemedicine programs in place. Another 41% say they'll have one in place in one to five years.
But there's so much more that the healthcare industry could do—especially with the increase in faster and more reliable networks, wireless devices, high-definition digital images and video, and the ubiquitous mobile device.
This week CMS lowered one of the biggest barriers to telehealth when it implemented a new credentialing and privileging process for physicians and practitioners who provide telemedicine services.
Under the new rule, hospitals will no longer be required to credential and grant privileges to each physician and practitioner who provides telemedicine services to its patients from a distant hospital or other telemedicine location. Instead, hospitals can rely on the credentialing and privileging decisions of the distant hospital.
And the physician's home hospital—presumably the larger organization, although some small hospitals do lend out their own specialists—will be responsible for the credentialing process.