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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Great Barrier Reefs, Kangaroos, Fosters...And Now Telemedicine?

As telemedicine picks up momentum in the USA it is important to recognize that as a Nation we are not always the first adopters of new technology, and telemedicine is no exception. Certainly we are a world leader in healthcare however as the 38th ranked country in average lifespan at 78 years, Japan being the leader with an average lifespan of 82 years, we don’t own the market when it comes to an ideal healthcare system. Certainly there are recognizable issues with respect to healthcare access across different demographic groups, geographic locations, and time barriers to attaining adequate care that require an overhaul of the current system. The movement of telemedicine offers many possible solutions to these inadequacies as we combine technology with medical professionals and offer the combination to the patient. Many countries in Europe, China and recently Australia have recognized the benefits of telemedicine and are making great strides to bring it to their respective populations.

At this link is a great publication by the Australian government outlining the potential benefits, pitfalls, and possible solutions to connecting patient and physician over videoconferencing technology. Unique to this discussion is the Australian government’s outreach to health professionals and key interest groups to contribute their opinions to policy making strategies prior to implementation of such policies.

Among the topics addressed by the Australian paper is the general consensus that telemedicine offers a great solution to expanding healthcare to a country that has a widespread population over vast amounts of territory where many specialties are concentrated in cities. Of the concerns outlined are reasons telemedicine has not been widely accepted as of yet including lack of reimbursement for such services and technological barriers to delivering standardized care over such a medium. The Australian government’s Department of Health and Aging, responsible for delivering their form of Medicare, is in charge of coming up with some potential solutions to the problem. These solutions include financial reimbursement of physicians on both ends of the teleconference, an additional technology implementation incentive and expanding their broadband nationally through a National Broadband Network.

Telemedicine is a huge undertaking for our national government, hospital systems, physicians and patients alike, but will have a tremendous upside if implemented correctly. Certainly we should be aware of how other progressive countries, such as Australia, are planning to deliver this type of service to its citizens.

~ Dr. Kevin Friedman

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