Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How Can Telehealth Advance Medical Practices?

What a compelling time to be at the forefront of the Telehealth field. With the mainstream adoption of the web, video conferencing, and mobile devices over the past decade, Telehealth is now impacting our society in remarkable ways, both economically and socially, by expanding healthcare access. The transformative potential of the field is just beginning to be realized, however, and the key participants must guide and shape it responsibly. The InteractiveMD community takes the opportunity to effect positive change seriously, and periodically hosts roundtables and forums to explore critical industry issues. 

On Friday, March 5th we hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Exploring How Telehealth Can Advance Medical Practices”, featuring a panel of esteemed physicians from a range of medical specialties.

Last week’s physician panel included Alejandro Lorenzana, M.D., leader of a large pulmonology practice in West Virginia, David J. Kudzma, M.D., former Medical Director at United Healthcare, Florida-based Telehealth practitioner William Mazzei, M.D., and Lieutenant Kevin Freedman, M.D., of the United States Navy. Each shared differing perspectives on the challenges and benefits of Telehealth, but all speakers praised its dramatic growth and impact. Ghen Sugimoto, Vice President of iCan Media, began by holding up the front page of the Wall Street Journal and quoting the Morgan Stanley ad that read “Home healthcare market will grow to an estimated $207 billion by 2014.” That’s huge by anyone’s standards, but it prompted a very candid discussion about the challenges that doctor’s perceive in implementing Telehealth into their existing medical practices. Common misconceptions were brought to light and addressed, such as difficulty in learning the systems, and confidentiality concerns and HIPAA compliance issues. We discovered that some physicians feared Telehealth might send existing patients to other doctors for remote treatment, or that it may simply add hours on to the workday. The candid discussion led to the conclusion that when properly applied, telehealth adds great efficiencies to the daily practice of medicine and could be a tool to retain and expand a practitioner’s patient base. As other misconceptions and challenges were unveiled, the true value in embedding Telehealth service into ones medical practice became crystal clear.

In expressing what interested them most about Telehealth, our physician panelists explained its many different medical and socially applications. Chronic conditions, like COPD, Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease topped a lengthy list of focus areas. The access-expanding ability to diagnose and treat patients in rural areas, or those who face distance or health obstacles that make travel difficult, were among the most compelling motivations. Beyond these medical and social reasons, physicians are incentivized by Telehealth’s potential to grow their practice, its ability to expand their personal freedom, and the opportunity it presents for professional prominence. The physicians also deeply examined the perspective of the patient, uncovering the high-level needs that should be address. The patients’desire for higher quality of care, increased time with their healthcare provider, and overall lifestyle convenience were seen as the most important….and all were recognized as needs a doctor can meet with the implementation of Telehealth.

Finally, the panel discussed the power of customization; that is, customizing a Telehealth platform to specifically address the needs of various medical specialty areas. By integrating the right tools (i.e. otoscopes, pulse oximeters, etc) that allow doctors to treat conditions requiring a specialist, Telehealth can expand its scope far beyond the basics of routine medicine. Training and educational tools, tailored for a physician’s own patient group, can be developed to match the needs and style of the practice. The possibilities for customization are vast, and have inspired an upcoming InteractiveMD-sponsored implementation of a specialized clinical pulmonology project and study.

Our team is enthusiastic about developing these new areas of Telehealth practice, and we’ll have more to share in the coming months. Stay tuned for upcoming roundtable discussions and forums to advance this global conversation.

~Alex Price, Sr. Manager, PR & Branding
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  1. As the practice of telehealth becomes a wide spread aspect of medicine and health care delivery, it is refreshing to see that corporations are embracing technology, while maintaining the traditional aspects of a physician/patient interaction.

  2. already we're seeing a wide range of applications in specialty fields of medicine, but it's great to see that there are companies beginning to take this technology to the general consumer. telehealth is definitely going to have a huge impact on the way we access care in this country!