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Telemedicine Coming to Healthcare Forefront

As health plans see the needs of patients changing, they are updating services offered so that patients can receive care in the manner they prefer and as quickly as possible. Phones, mobile apps, websites and more offer choices to help manage conditions and seek treatment. Telemedicine is one service being used to a greater extent, for everything from doctor visits and nurse consultations to behavioral health services. In fact, according to Foley & Lardner’s 2017 Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey, three-fourths of healthcare organizations provide or are planning to offer telemedicine services this year, and half of those providing telehealth had plans to expand their programs.

Community Health System in Tennessee has been able to provide psychiatric services more effectively in its communities since implementing telehealth initiatives. With the ability to provide psychiatric evaluations within an hour of request, there are shortened wait times for patients and less time in emergency rooms as patients move on to the appropriate care setting. “Rather than waiting hours, and in some cases days, to receive services, patients are often able to be evaluated by a behavioral health specialist within a matter of minutes,” said Jim Hurley, national director of behavioral health at Community Health System. Currently, the CHS Access Center provides intake and placement services for nine hospitals in Tennessee, but there are plans to expand those services to 20 Florida hospitals, two Arizona hospitals, and eight Indiana hospitals by the end of 2018’s first quarter. The more effective movement of patients through the health system serves patients better, and also increases hospital revenue.

A previous post on this blog discussed the deployment of telemedicine tools in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to assist recovering healthcare communities. Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico with similar challenges, but the island’s isolation made it even more necessary for experts to utilize telehealth services. An emergency team from New York-Presbyterian Weill Cornell Medical Center deployed equipment in Puerto Rico in October 2017 to enable specialists from the U.S. mainland to consult with doctors serving the island’s population. On the first day, a live video call allowed the pediatric team to consult with endocrinology experts in New York regarding a diabetic 2-year-old boy whose blood sugar levels had been elevated for two weeks. “Being able to see the child, and assess his behavior, his level of comfort and hydrated state, and his well appearance, was a priceless aspect of this evaluation, as a simple phone discussion could not have provided this critical information that helped to guide his care,” said Shari Platt, MD, chief of pediatric emergency medicine at the medical center.

Whether in rural areas with little access to specialists or in the aftermath of disasters such as hurricanes that can overwhelm medical communities, the applications of telemedicine have shown that it is poised to grow, as patients embrace more digital solutions to take charge of their healthcare.