Telemedicine, a recent and convenient form of health care, has been improving the health of many Americans in more than just rural areas. According to the National Public Radio, the rise of telemedicine has been keeping both rural and urban Americans out of the Emergency Room for non-urgent problems by improving the access, cost, and quality of healthcare.
“It’s still early days for telemedicine,” said Erin Holve. Holve is the director of health care reform and innovation at D.C. Department of Health Care Finance.
“But,” Holve said, “there are lots of reasons to believe that establishing the kind of relationship between a patient and provider and having that continuity of care will ultimately reduce some of the non-emergent visits to the ER.”
Hospitals Are Encouraging Patients To Try Telemedicine
Mary’s Center, a community health center in Washington, D.C., has been testing a telemedicine program to improve access to primary care for Medicaid patients. Many Medicaid patients are unable to visit Mary’s Center due to mobility issues, inability to take off work, and childcare issues.
For this reason, Mary’s Center has been working toward increased healthcare access by introducing not only telemedicine programs but also health screening fairs. These fairs can help diagnose Americans with health problems that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.
Dennis Lebron Dolman was one patient who visited a health screening fair. At the fair, Dolman learned his blood pressure was as high as 180 over 100. Grace Kelly, a medical assistant at Mary’s Center, recommended Dolman take part in the center’s telemedicine program. The program includes a home health care visit from a medical assistant who performs the same tests one would receive at any other doctor’s office. Once vitals have been taken, a doctor speaks to the patient via webcam. The visits are completely covered by Trusted Health Plan.
Holve says the telemedicine program is critical not only to improve the health of patients like Dolman but also to take pressure off of overtaxed hospitals.
“We’re very supportive of the fact that our [managed care organization] partners are testing these innovations and looking at these pilots so we can have an understanding of what’s really going to work for district residents,” said Holve.
However, Holve says it’s more than just about reducing ER visits. The goal of the telemedicine program is to help improve the quality of care in other places across the United States.
For Dolman, the telemedicine program has connected him to a healthcare provider he trusts.
“Dr. Gita’s good — I like her,” said Dolman of Dr. Agarwal, who has introduced Dolman to a nutritionist to help keep his blood pressure down. She’s even convinced Dolman to receive a flu shot when he isn’t a fan of needles. Compared to the common cold, which can go away in 48 hours, the flu can last for up to two weeks and can lead to an ER visit in extreme cases.
When Is Telemedicine Appropriate?
While telemedicine can help connect underserved populations to high quality medical care via the Internet, there are obviously many health conditions that require in-person treatment. There are many life-threatening injuries in the U.S. every day, such as rear-end collisions, which happen every eight seconds and often require medical care. However, there are also hundreds of common medical complaints that may not actually require a patient to visit a physician in person.
For instance, up to 35 million men in the U.S. are suffering from hair loss, which could be caused by a vitamin deficiency or stress. Workplace stress alone causes up to 1 million Americans every day to miss work. However, there’s no reason hair loss or anxiety cannot be diagnosed through telemedicine, which can be extremely convenient for patients without ready access to primary care physicians, specialists, or transportation.
In addition to treating health conditions such as acne, allergies, vomiting, rashes, and other non-emergency conditions, telemedicine can also offer so-called e-prescriptions to patients who could not see a doctor otherwise.
As a result, telemedicine is slowly being adopted all over the country. In Alabama, the state’s largest insurance company began covering telemedicine in 2016, and Medicare and Medicaid also cover many forms of telemedicine.