“Telemedicine may just be the biggest trend in digital health in 2015.” At least that’s the opinion offered by Skip Fleshman in a recent article in Forbes. The author, who consults with health care providers and insurers about technology, says the thing “they are most interested in is telemedicine.” That’s in part because, he says, telemedicine offers hospitals “a way to cut costs while providing consumers with the convenience they crave.” Telemedicine’s time is now, he says, because “the technology around virtual consultations has finally matured to the point where doctors can offer a good experience.”
Patients, too, may have reached the tipping point, Fleshman suggests. And it’s not just younger patients. Mayo’s Steve Ommen, M.D., medical director for Connected Care, tells Fleshman he sees both a benefit for and interest from older patients. “They are not technology-averse, and they have the greatest mobility challenge in terms of getting to a doctor,” he says. “A telemedicine solution may be exactly what they need.” From the provider perspective, Dr. Ommen notes, "If we can change the way they interact with people who don’t need to be in the room, we can improve access for people who do.”
This past September, Dr. Ommen traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk telemedicine and with the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging. (You can watch that hearing here.) Dr. Ommen’s statement highlighted some of Mayo’s telemedicine successes, including Mayo’s use of eConsults, Telestroke Programs, video visits and consultations, and much more. “In all of these situations, we have observed that connected care improves access, service and affordability for our patients,” he told the Senate committee. “People with mobility concerns, those residing in skilled nursing facilities, and those with chronic diseases derive particular benefit from accessing health care, health guidance and health information where they are, when they need it, rather than having to travel to traditional facilities.”
What the country’s health care providers need now (other than love, sweet love, we assume) is government policies that help make the benefits of telemedicine more broadly available, Dr. Ommen told the committee. “Government policies must keep pace with technology,” he says. That includes reimbursement policies that “offer providers the flexibility” and government policies that “advance connected care opportunities by encouraging primary care and specialty providers to break down regional barriers … allowing them to provide better coordinated and cost effective care to their patients.” That, in turn, will mean greater “convenience and less cost for the patient and their family.”
Fleshman sums his article up on a hopeful note, saying that “reimbursement for telemedicine is also becoming more mainstream” and “the promise of telemedicine has been heard before, but this time I think it will take hold ... I believe that it will change the doctor-patient relationship for the better.”
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