The internet has changed the way people work, entertain themselves and even the way they date, but until recently the medical world had been largely left out of the technological revolution. That does not mean that individual doctors and hospitals had not adapted their policies and used technological tools in their practices, but for the patients themselves things had not changed in decades.
The last seismic shift in medical care was the move from old-fashioned house calls to a more modern approach centered on medical offices and waiting rooms. It is therefore ironic that the latest shift in medical care has more in common with the house calls of old than the traditional waiting room.
One of the biggest stories in the world of medicine is the sudden embrace of telemedicine, a trend that had largely flown under the radar until now. The idea of seeing a doctor without leaving the house is certainly appealing to patients, but there are solid reasons for doctors and medical centers to make the shift to this new model. Here are some reasons everyone should be a fan of telemedicine.
It is Now Covered By Insurance
Some progressive health insurance companies have paid for telemedicine visits for years, but until recently Medicare and other government programs had refused to foot the bill. Telemedicine visits, they argued, were more akin to phone calls than real medical care, and they made their payment decisions based on that criteria.
That has changed, thanks to changes in the Medicare system and other government-paid health care programs. Now that Medicare and other programs are reimbursing for telemedicine visits, many more patients will have access to the care they need.
It is Cost Effective
Given the relatively low cost of telemedicine visits, it is surprising that private insurers and governmental agencies were so slow to embrace the technological revolution. Compared to the overhead costs of maintaining an office and seeing patients in the flesh, caring for people over the phone is incredibly cost effective.
Even if telemedicine does not completely replace traditional office visits, it can still lower overhead costs for providers across the board. Medical facilities that embrace the telemedicine revolution could save money by cutting office hours, reducing face-to-face appointments and hiring fewer staff members.
It Can Prevent the Spread of Illness
Perhaps the most important reason to embrace the telemedicine revolution is to protect the health of the community. It should not take a pandemic illness to point out that medical offices are often crawling with germs, or that illness can easily spread from one patient to another.
When patients are seen online and routine care is handled remotely, the risk of transmitting illness drops precipitously. And with fewer patients in the physical realm, medical providers can space their people out, further reducing the risk of transmitting dangerous illnesses.
It is Increasingly Accessible
One of the major sticking points for telemedicine enthusiasts has been the lack of accessibility. With high-speed internet connections unevenly distributed and technical acumen lacking in many parts of the country, seeing a doctor remotely was often impossible.
That may be changing, thanks to a combination of technological advances and the actions of government agencies and internet service providers. The rise of 5G is bringing with it faster and more stable connections, while companies that provide internet access are expanding their operations to more rural communities, areas that had often been neglected.
This closing of the accessibility gap could prove pivotal to the rise of telemedicine, since the patients who could benefit the most have often had the least access to the care they need. Residents of rural communities are often underserved by traditional medical facilities, driving hours to visit the doctor or access hospital care. By closing the gap, these patients can be served right in their own homes, with no long car trips or high gasoline costs.
It is a Good First Step Even for Serious Illnesses
While telemedicine is best suited for routine health care, a video conference call can be a good first step even for more serious illnesses. Patients who are worried about their health can chat with a doctor face to face, give a rundown of their symptoms and receive either reassurance or a request for more advanced follow-up care.
At the same time, telemedicine can allow doctors to focus on their sickest patients, so they can provide those individuals with additional time and attention. By handling routine coughs, colds, scrapes and cuts remotely, medical clinics can preserve their precious resources for the patients who need them the most.
The rise of telemedicine has been on the back burner for many years, but it has taken off in a big way. With so many doctors and medical providers embracing telemedicine, your next office visit may take place on your phone instead of in a crowded waiting room.