Most people I talk to don't know what telemedicine is.
But they will in 2-3 years. A recent Economist article looked at the strong signs that telemedicine is gaining momentum at individual, hospital, and governmental levels.
The article traces the evolution of telemedicine, which we've experienced at ClickCare. You might be surprised to know that as early as 1924, Radio News documented a doctor seeing a patient via a television link. In the mid-90s, we ourselves were using bulky cameras and a network of enthusiastic nurse practitioners to connect pediatricians to in-school nurses' offices. And today, we've seen an exponential increase in the comfort, trust, and excitement around telemedicine.
So what are the forces that are pushing telemedicine to the fore? We see a few key pieces:
- Governments, often the slowest part of the system, are under pressure caused by budget constraints, chronic disease, an aging population, and regulatory issues. Telemedicine is now seen as a solution to these intersecting problems.
- There is increasing recognition that an approach to telemedicine and medical collaboration must address changing our practices as providers, not just changing our technology. “If you have a chaotic system and add technology, you get a chaotic system with technology,” says Peteris Zilgalvis, a health official at the European Commission. We've always insisted that it's better to invest in people and software, not expensive hardware -- and our behavior and workflow is key to this. Behavior and workflow are interrelated. An intrinsic and nourished desire to collaborate begins a constructive workflow. A workflow, dictated but not embraced, does not start the process. An empowered workflow can move the process along much more strongly. The provider with the right behavior, needs the right workflow to accomplish his goals.
- Reimbursement is no longer a barrier. 21 states mandate that telemedicine be reimbursed at the same rates as face-to-face care. This trend is one that's headed in a single direction: reimbursement for telemedicine is more widespread, more systematic, and more comprehensive every year.
So, like most "overnight successes", this one is taking decades. But the long-in-coming telemedicine era may actually be on its way.