Telemedicine might sound like a strange fit for an industry that depends on human touch. For most of us, it's hard to imagine seeking treatment from a doctor using a screen or digital portal, rather than face-to-face in an office. But it’s been catching on for several years in many fields, including long-term care.
That’s because telemedicine provides solutions for several longstanding problems, including accessibility to care; the limited mobility of some patient communities including the disabled and the elderly; and a generally inadequate patient-to-doctor ratio in many areas.
Telemedicine might redefine long-term care as we know it. But first, we have to remove some of the uncertainty and even a bit of a stigma around the technology.
Here Are the Basics
Patients under long-term care are generally those with co-occurring or chronic conditions. Accustomed to face-to-face consultations, these patients can be at risk of miscommunication, which can have devastating consequences.
Unfortunately, making sure the relevant parties even come together in the same room can be a challenge. The American healthcare system has to make do with less public funding every calendar year, while dealing with doctor and nurse shortages, and a diverse population spread across a large country. Compounding the problem is the fact that many health care providers don't have a relevant specialist on hand at every hour, which means conventional, in-person meetings can take a long time to set up.
These conditions have created the ideal opportunity to introduce telemedicine, which can connect doctors with patients who face difficulties meeting in person, and help patients feel more in control of their health, without having to travel a great distance for an appointment.
Telemedicine has already proven effective in ongoing treatment plans for congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)and stroke. For COPD, for example, telemedicine has already improved patient outcomes, by reducing emergency room visits, hospital readmissions, mortality, and reports of worsening health.
Health Updates at a Glance
The chief benefit of telemedicine is the ability for patients to create and maintain a long-term relationship with a health provider they trust. It offers the huge benefit of letting lets all parties connect in real time, and using devices they're already familiar with.
And when dealing with long-term care in chronically ill and elderly populations, it's impossible to overstate the benefit of exchanging relevant health information at a glance. Patient health can sometimes turn on a dime, which makes timely, personalized encounters with health personnel vitally important when and if doctors detect the need to accelerate treatment or even transfer the patient to another team.
Telemedicine piggybacks on HIPAA, which requires secure communications between patients and their doctors, or between two doctors' offices. The newest telemedicine software suites include two-way video conference tools, the ability to exchange patient records easily, dashboards for both parties to view health analytics including wearables and IoT devices over time, and more. The result is more patient satisfaction and confidence, greater access to doctors and timely treatment. Even if doctor-patient relationships continue to begin with face-to-face consultations, long-term care in the future will likely include telemedicine.