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Bridging the Gap of Time, Distance and Affordability in Health Care

From ChamberChoice and Smart Business Pittsburgh

As technology develops, so too have the improvements and capabilities with the delivery of health care.

“Telehealth innovations in the health care industry are a significant step forward in mitigating rising health care costs,” says Ron Carmassi, client advisor at JRG Advisors.

He added that technology can lead to better outcomes and lower costs, thus saving time and money for the patient, provider and insurance company.

Smart Business spoke with Carmassi about how telehealth can be a supplement or temporary substitute for traditional medical care.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth utilizes technology to facilitate communication, whether real-time or delayed, between a doctor and patient.

One advantage is that medical evaluation, diagnosis and treatment can be accomplished without the doctor and patient being in the same location. In other words, telehealth accomplishes the virtual doctor vist. It also facilitates the exchange of medical information from one location to another so that the evaluated patient can seek treatment in a convenient clinical setting.

How does telehealth help both doctors and patients?

Telehealth offers numerous benefits for doctors and patients. Here are a few of the advantages.

■ Remote accessibility — The primary functions of telehealth are efficiency and convenience of the communication between the patient and doctor. With this technology, doctors can reach patients in remote, rural and underserved areas where there might not be an available doctor or hospital.

Additionally through telehealth, patients can access doctors for routine visits, emergency care or diagnostics from a specialist from the comfort of their home or the convenience of their workplace.

■ Specialist availability — Telehealth also provides increased access to specialists. Even when patients live in urban areas with numerous doctors and hospitals, specialists for some health conditions may not practice in the area. This technology enables patients in both rural and urban areas to easily connect with specialists who may be hundreds of miles away.

■ Cost savings — Patients save money for routine and specialist care because they do not have to pay travel expenses for distant doctors or take excessive time off from work. Additionally, many health plans offer telehealth visits at lower copayments than a primary care physician or specialist visit.

Doctors participating with telehealth also can serve more patients in a day, which can reduce overhead and related costs. With remote monitoring through telehealth services, the larger costs associated with hospitalization, in-home nursing and chronic conditions management can be significantly lessened. For example, remote monitoring provides proper supervision of a patient following discharge from the hospital, which reduces hospital readmissions.

■ Convenience of care — For some patients, the comfort and convenience of consulting with a doctor from their homes is a tremendous advantage. The convenience also can improve care. For example, whereas patients often forget to bring medications with them to a traditional office visit, when patients are at home they have ready access to the information necessary for the doctor to diagnose and prescribe.

Also, because the patient is at home, it is often easier to take notes or even include a family member who can help retain important information from the doctor.

Fueled by technological advances and answering the demand for consumer-convenient care, telehealth is widely offered through all insurance companies and delivers many advantages. Although not the same as sitting in an actual doctor’s office, a telehealth visit with a doctor can prove beneficial by warding off further illness or disease, stabilizing a condition until a patient is able to reach a hospital or monitoring a patient at home.

Telehealth is not a complete replacement for face-to-face health care, but it can be a helpful supplement and even a temporary substitute for traditional medical care.

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