Advances in technology have not only affected the way healthcare providers treat illnesses but also how they deliver that treatment. Telemedicine technology allows healthcare providers to connect with their patients wherever they may be, extending healthcare to people who may otherwise have little or no access. Because telemedicine is becoming more common, students in online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN) programs need to know how telemedicine affects patient care.
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine — sometimes called telehealth — is “the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.”
Telemedicine technology includes email, smartphone applications, text messaging, landlines and video conferencing, along with a growing number of other software applications and additional web-based tools. These tools allow patients to receive personalized care in their homes. Monitoring centers can also remotely track cardiac, pulmonary or fetal function for high-risk patients, and hospitals and other providers can use the same technology to offer preventive and specialized services.
Telemedicine has become increasingly popular in recent years among both healthcare providers and patients. This growth may be the result of an overall acceptance of healthcare technology, particularly since the introduction of the electronic health record (EHR). A 2013 survey by the American Hospital Association found that 52 percent of hospitals employed telehealth strategies and an additional 10 percent were planning to implement such services. Similarly, patients are overwhelmingly open to telemedical healthcare services. The AHA report goes on to say that 74 percent of patients would utilize telemedicine, and 76 percent of patients state that access to healthcare services is more important than face-to-face interactions with their healthcare providers.
Telemedicine offers several benefits. It can be extremely cost-effective because it provides an additional revenue stream with minimal overhead. Physicians can treat patients in multiple geographic locations without the cost of maintaining offices in those areas. This can also reduce the amount of time healthcare providers must spend traveling. Nurses who have completed an online RN to BSN program may even find employment opportunities in “telenursing.”
Patients stand to benefit from telehealth services as well, particularly in rural areas. On average, there are only 68 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents in rural areas, compared to 84 per 100,000 in urban areas (Robert Graham Center). There may be even fewer in more isolated locations. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 14 percent of U.S. residents — or 46.2 million people — living in rural locales, telemedicine can improve their access to healthcare services.
Likewise, elderly, disabled or chronically ill patients may have difficulty traveling to appointments. Telemedicine can ensure that these patients get the care they need. For others, the ability to fit in an appointment at the office or at home may better accommodate their schedules. The cost of care may be lower as well, depending on the provider’s fee schedule.
Despite the advantages of telemedicine, there are still challenges. Some healthcare providers may be reluctant to fully embrace telemedicine technology and its associated applications, especially on the heels of EHR implementation. They may express concerns about security and HIPAA compliance.
While technology has come a long way, malfunctioning equipment, power outages or poor internet connections can impede the process and lead to frustrated providers and patients. Insurance coverage can be a problem in some areas, too; only 31 states and the District of Columbia require insurance companies to cover telehealth services. The other states have no formal coverage requirements.
More Accessible Healthcare
The widespread availability of internet access and internet-enabled devices has led more healthcare providers and patients to consider the benefits of telemedicine. The advances in telemedicine technology allow patients to receive healthcare services they may not otherwise have access to. These advances enhance the way providers monitor chronic conditions, further improving patient outcomes. As technology evolves, it is likely that telemedicine may become an even more significant part of the healthcare industry.
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Petterson, S. M., Phillips, R. L., Jr., Bazemore, A. W., & Koinis, G. T. (2013, June 1). Unequal Distribution of the U.S. Primary Care Workforce. Robert Graham Center
Population & Migration. (2016, May 6). USDA
The Promise of Telehealth For Hospitals, Health Systems and Their Communities. (2015, January). American Hospital Association
About Telemedicine, F.A.Q. (n.d.). American Telemedicine Association
About Telemedicine. (n.d.). American Telemedicine Association
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