Telemedicine is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through telecommunications technology. According to a January 2015 article in Forbes, telemedicine’s time has finally come in 2015 for the following reasons:
- Technology has matured enough that doctors can offer patients a good experience.
- Telemedicine technology now includes asynchronous messaging, so doctors can better utilize their time.
- There is a greater demand among patients for the convenience of telemedicine.
- The 60+ age group, which is not adverse to technology and has more difficulty getting to the doctor than younger patients, is expected to fully embrace the convenience of telemedicine.
- Telemedicine will save a great deal of money and increase the value of doctors’ time by reducing the amount of time spent with patients who do not need to be seen in the doctor’s office.
- It can keep patients engaged with their primary health care providers and their care integrated with existing health care records.
However, not everyone agrees that telemedicine is a good thing. The Texas medical board, for example, issued an emergency ruling on January 16, 2015 requiring doctors to meet personally with their patients before prescribing medications, as reported in a February 12, 2015 article in the Texas Tribune. The Tribune reports that the medical board felt these emergency measures were necessary to protect public health.
Teladoc, one of largest telemedicine companies in Texas, obtained a temporary restraining order from a Travis County judge to prevent the ruling from going into effect four days after it was issued on the basis that there was no existing imminent danger to public safety, health, or welfare. The Tribune article quotes Tara Kepler, a telemedicine attorney, as saying that all medical boards across the nation are taking similar actions, and that Texas is just a little bolder.
According to the Tribune article, Dr. Russell Thomas, an osteopath, expressed the opinion that telemedicine services pose risks for patients, particularly when drugs are prescribed. He questioned the quality of service a physician would be able to provide sight unseen, with no relationship with the patient.
The Great Plains Telehealth Resource & Assistance Center (g pTRAC) argues that telemedicine is not meant to replace existing healthcare methods, but rather intended as a tool to complement them. According to g p TRAC, e-visits are not intended for new patients or for established patients with urgent medical conditions or conditions requiring a physical examination or with significant visible components, such as a rash.
Medicaid.gov describes telemedicine as “a cost effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care . . . that states can choose to cover under Medicaid. Within certain provider and facility guidelines, Medicaid allows states the option to determine whether or not to cover telemedicine, what types of telemedicine to cover, and where and how it is provided.
The consensus of opinion appears to be that telemedicine has a number of advantages, not the least of which is the convenience and the time and money it can save. However, the question remains whether or not virtual doctors can provide the standard of care that American patients are entitled to expect from their healthcare providers.
- Forbes: Why Telemedicine’s Time Has Finally Come
- Texas Tribune: Virtual Doctors Making Medical Board Really Nervous
- g p TRAC: Argument: Telemedicine should not replace in-person doctor visits
- Medicaid.gov: Telemedicine