Although telemedicine has been around for decades, it is still seen as new technology. One reason is the rise of new telemedicine applications thanks to the speed of innovation in software and the continuous stream of new platforms on the market. While traditional telemedicine has been used in the past to improve access to medical care in underserved communities, today’s telemedicine is increasingly being used to connect all patients and providers directly, not only to improve access, but also to facilitate better continuity of care. This means that software and hardware vendors are increasingly relying on devices that patients already have, such as mobile phones and tablets. Patients are able to use their own devices to complete a virtual office visit from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.
In our opinion, another reason for the perceived newness of telemedicine is the increasing adoption of this technology in the last several years. Although telemedicine has been around for a while, its use has been primarily in academic settings and in the military. Most providers with established practices have never encountered it, and even some newer providers have gone through academic programs and residencies without exposure to telemedicine. However, today’s telemedicine companies are marketing telemedicine solutions to hospitals, private practices, and directly to consumers. This exposure does make telemedicine new for these settings and care models.
The risks associated with the newness of telemedicine are the same risks associated with any new technology. One recent transition in Health IT has been the transition from paper records to electronic medical records (EMRs). Over 50% of practices now use EMRs. Although these technologies have provided many benefits, many providers and medical staff still view these systems as clunky and difficult to use. Many clinics and hospitals have adopted these technologies solely to meet the government’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirements and are not too happy about it.
Some of the common concerns that go along with any new technology include:
- How will this impact the quality of service that I provide?
- Will it work as claimed?
- How much time and effort will I have to spend to figure this thing out?
- Is using this going to create more work for me?
One of the reasons for publishing these is to dispel some of these concerns and to provide education for both medical providers and patients regarding the care models, business models, and technologies behind telemedicine. To address the above questions—yes, telemedicine does work and has the potential to provide tangible benefits for patients, providers, and practice managers. At the same time, just as with any change, there is a learning curve.