3 Ways Telemedicine is Changing Healthcare

Lena J. Weiner, January 21, 2016

From increasing access to influencing better patient outcomes, health systems are recognizing the benefits of virtual patient visits and remote monitoring—and finding ways to mitigate the costs.

Some patients are harder to reach than others.

Refusing to turn on his webcam, one telemedicine patient insisted on communicating only using the chat box on his provider's mobile app. Eventually, he admitted that he suffered from agoraphobia, germophobia, and social anxiety. This was the only way he felt comfortable seeking care.


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Mia Finkelston, MD

Once the realm of science fiction, telemedicine has become a reality of care—and an option for patients that might once have been difficult to reach, including rural patients, professionals with busy schedules, and patients unable or uncomfortable seeking care in person.

Mia Finkelston, MD, medical director at American Well, the patient's Boston-based telemedicine provider says he is the type of patient who might not have received care without access to telemedicine.

Shez Partovi, MD, chief medical information officer at Dignity Health, says his organization alone performed 12,000 telemedicine consults in 2015—a number that he expects will increase to 20,000 in 2016.

But telemedicine is changing, and providers must be ready to exploit its possibilities.

1. Virtual Visit Volumes are on the Rise
Gone are the days when telemedicine was a rarity; appointments are going mainstream.


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Shez Partovi, MD

"I can't imagine seeing a primary care provider in the office for a sinus infection anymore," says Deborah Dahl, vice president of care innovation at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ. She says many traditionally brick-and-mortar services, such as visits for routine acute care, follow up care, e-pharmacy, and counseling are poised to move online.

While Dahl's sentiments may not yet be typical (telemedicine appointments are generally not reimbursed by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services or most other payers), providers are paving the way for virtual visits to become the norm.

"I think more urgent and follow-up care will shift to the virtual space in the near future," says Peter Rasmussen, MD, medical director of distance health at the Cleveland Clinic.

He foresees regular online patient visits with a care coordinator or nurse for health maintenance, and visits to a clinic or doctor's office only for hands-on visits such as eye examinations, throat cultures, and comprehensive physical exam every year or two.

"We are laying the groundwork for a full virtual healthcare system," he says. While Cleveland Clinic's distance health program initially focused on uses such as providing care to rural areas, the ease of access for urbanites and busy professionals has become apparent, says Rasmussen.

Lena J. Weiner

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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