Got questions about telemedicine? They have answers.
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Posted By Guest Blogger Dorothy Wallheimer, Wednesday, September 9, 2015

There’s no point in burying your head in the sand when it comes to telemedicine.

About 800,000 patients consulted with a physician online in the past 12 months. And that number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years.

Telemedicine, also called telehealth, is the delivery of healthcare services through telecommunications technology such as videoconferencing, online transmission of images, e-health patient portals and remote monitoring of vital signs.

The annual UCAOA Fall Conference will offer a “who, what, when, where and how” session on telemedicine for urgent care operators. It will cover vendor solutions, the current state of telemedicine in urgent care and debate where telemedicine and urgent care might be headed.

Bernie Kuhn, principal with Merchant Medicine, LLC, in Minnesota, will moderate the discussion on how telemedicine is being used now and the potential for future growth. Panelists include: Milton Chen, PhD, CEO of VSee, the world’s largest telemedicine platform; Greg Carroll, MD, Northwest Market President for GoHealth Urgent Care; and Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH, chief medical officer and co-founder of TeleMed2U.

“It’s in a fledgling state,” Kuhn said. The technology has been available for about 20 years, but most clinics are only using it for remote reading of radiology or EKG scans.

“Now (telemedicine) is becoming widespread,” Kuhn added. “Everyone’s looking at it going, ‘Gosh, this could really change things.’ It’s here. Let’s do it and do it right.”

Carroll said the biggest uses of telehealth he sees right now are for patient follow-up and lab results.

“In urgent care centers, we’re really just starting to tap the potential,” Carroll said.

While some are concerned over the threat of telemedicine services in the marketplace, Carroll said urgent care centers have an advantage.

“We can do (telemedicine) care and see the patient in the bricks and mortar facility as well,” he said. “Maybe the initial telemedicine contact will be in the home, but who better than the urgent care physician to decide if a patient should come in for further testing?”

The American Medical Association (AMA) endorsed the use of remote monitoring and delivery of services at its annual meeting in June 2014. The organization also noted that the market for telemedicine is expected to grow from approximately $1 billion in 2016 to $6 billion by 2020. The move by the AMA, along with support from the Federation of State Medical Boards, is helping pave the way for fewer restrictions to telemedicine across the United States.

Panelists at the Fall Conference will discuss “lessons learned” about the integration of telemedicine at urgent care centers.

“There’s a cautionary piece,” Carroll said. “If you’re a smaller group and you want to connect with a larger system, you have to go into it eyes wide open.”

It’s important to use a telemedicine platform that is compliant with state and federal regulations, and is also compatible with other systems.

Siddiqui said there are tremendous opportunities to incorporate telemedicine at urgent care centers.

Some urgent care centers are already using telemedicine to better manage workflow. In an urgent care network, for example, you could “see” patients at a busier clinic by dialing into a physician at a quieter site.

Siddiqui, who previously worked as director for telemedicine at the University of California-Davis, said the technology adds expertise to urgent care sites. Physicians can consult through teleconferencing about whether the patient needs to be sent to a specialist or a higher level of care.

“It enhances the urgent care facility,” Siddiqui said. “Instead of being the cough-and-cold center, now it can be the place for the appropriate level of emergency care.”

Many facilities right now are just “dipping their toes in the water” when it comes to telemedicine, he said. But Siddiqui offered two big reasons that should change: it’s good healthcare delivery and it’s a very successful healthcare model.

A common misconception is that facilities have to invest in a lot of expensive equipment to do telemedicine.

“It’s not about the equipment, it’s about the workflow,” Siddiqui said. “With a telehealth network, you can have a house call with a patient at home using their tablet or laptop. … Or a patient can get on the website and request to be seen and determine if they need to actually come in to the urgent care center.”

“Is telemedicine going to replace office visits? Probably not,” Carroll said. “But that percentage is to be determined.”

Kuhn said he’s looking forward to presenting with some leading authorities on the topic and discussing these and other questions from those who attend.

“Many experts think this is the year that things really start to take off for telehealth in the retail care space. You’ve got to have answers to this,” he said.

Additional Resource: Click here for more information on the panel discussion "Telemedicine for the Urgent Care Operator: The How, What, When, Who," to be held at the 2015 Fall Conference in New Orleans from 10-11:15am on Saturday, September 26.

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