AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


Telemedicine Achieves Its Potential for Parkinson’s Patients

Ask any patient suffering from chronic disease and they often will tell a story of isolation, uncertainty and frustration over the debilitating effects of their disease. Many times the focus of their complaints is not being afforded easy access to specialized care and consultation with caregivers. While significant inroads have been made in the treatment options for chronic maladies like Diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, gaining routine, daily access to those ground breaking discoveries is out of the reach of many sufferers.

Researchers are looking at how modern communication technology, coupled with the latest techniques in treating Parkinson disease, can revolutionize the quality of care for sufferers of the chronic neurological disorder. “We are looking at quality of life, quality of care and reducing the burden on healthcare providers”, says Dr. Ray Dorsey, co-director of the Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center. “Imagine if you thought there was a possibility you had Parkinson’s disease, but you lived 100 miles or more from the nearest medical center with a qualified neurologist. You’re faced with at least a couple of hours of driving, of navigating an unfamiliar urban environment, of parking and walking—and that’s assuming you’re able to find a neurologist within driving distance to begin with. Now think about how easy it is to buy a book or a pair of shoes online. The two should not be so different.”

Preliminary results of the Connect.Parkinson project, the nation’s first randomized clinical trial of remote treatment of Parkinson’s disease, indicate the benefits of virtual treatment for patients and caregivers alike. A recent report on the initial results of the 18-state, Connect.Parkinson project reported that 95 percent of Parkinson’s patients completing telehealth visits have experienced an increased proportion of the time with a healthcare professional of 89 percent; up from 25 percent for those opting for traditional in-person encounters.

The National Parkinson Foundation is committed to supporting efforts to demonstrate how telemedicine can enhance the delivery of care to people with Parkinson’s. Studies are indicating that telemedicine care, often delivered in the patients home, is just as good as care received at a brick and motor medical center. The fact that diagnosing and monitoring the progression of Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders is based almost entirely on visual observation makes Parkinson uniquely suited for virtual care technologies. Christopher Goetz, MD, a leading expert on movement disorders and director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Rush University Medical Center says, “Ninety-five percent of the information I gather is visual. Thus, with telemedicine visits where I can see and hear my patient right in front of me on the computer screen, there is no decline in the quality of information I gather.”

Rush is located in the state of Illinois which is among those states not yet mandating payers to provide payments for telemedical services. But according to Dr. Brian Patty, Rush’s chief medical information office and chairman of Rush’s Telemedicine Steering Committee, the Medical Center has several telemedicine pilot projects underway that can likely have significant impact on Parkinson patients.

In New York, researchers at The Rochester Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics, are developing and testing mobile apps that will help Parkinson’s patients track metrics such as dexterity, balance, gait, voice patterns and cognition, then send readings to researchers.

After decades of promises, telemedicine is delivering on its promise to increase access to quality, specialty care to improve patient outcomes.



Growth of Telemedicine is Global and Becoming Common Place

Though the United States has been dominating the global telemedicine market, Europe and developing nations are rapidly catching up. The global telemedicine market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19 percent, driven mainly by growth opportunities in Europe, but the enthusiastic growth may be tempered by the lack of standardized classifications. However, the increase in remote monitoring of patients is expected to keep driving the market, which is also boosted by the increase in telesurgery. The shift is occurring mainly because of the increase in the number of patients with chronic diseases and the increasing availability of online healthcare services.

The remote delivery of healthcare services over the telecommunications infrastructure, or telemedicine, is a topic of interest to the vast majority of Italian general practitioners (GPs), with 73 percent stating that they are prepared to use the technology according to a study conducted by the Italian Family Doctor’s Association FIMMG. Over half of the doctors surveyed, 52 percent, are in favor of using these new technologies if they help to develop organizational aspects of the profession, while 30 percent state that telemedicine could even improve the doctor-patient relationship.

Global virtual doctor visits could become as common as face-to-face appointments because health insurers, hospital systems and employers view it as a way to clamp down on rising medical costs. They hope that by giving patients easy access to a primary care physician, it will discourage them from visiting a costly emergency room when they get sick. The trend in the US is expected to escalate as an influx of new patients, caused by the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), promises to put a strain on some doctors’ offices for treatment of routine illnesses.  Health giants UPMC and Highmark Inc. are rolling out new services that allow patients to video-conference with doctors through computers, tablets and smartphones.  “We think more and more people, as they become more familiar with telemedicine, will see this as something that is just going to be commonplace,” said Natasa Sokolovich, executive director of telemedicine at UPMC.  Convenience is the big selling point of telemedicine services to patients.  Rather than having to wait days or weeks to schedule an appointment at a doctor’s office, a video conference could be scheduled within minutes or hours, and the patient wouldn’t have to leave their home.

While such convenience is enticing to an increasingly busy society, some doctors and medical care providers are warning that an E-visit can’t entirely replace face-to-face consultations in a physician’s office environment. Nonverbal cues can be very important in accurately diagnosing patients, said Dr. Bruce MacLeod, president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society. “Some details could be missed in a video conference.”

But as the availability and quality of telemedicine advances globally, a increasing majority of patients are willing and eager to invite the technology into their relationship with their health care providers.  The desire to make medical care more accessible and less-costly is global. Whether E-visits replace face to face medical care completely or just become some relative portion of interaction between patients and physicians, the medical services delivery model is going to be altered dramatically for the future.  The rate of acceptance of communication technology in the medical care process will be driven more by necessary changes to the well-established regulations, licensing requirements, and cost reimbursement policies from within the health care community.