AcuteCare Telemedicine Blog


A Better Model of Delivery Realized

We buy groceries, trade stocks, and chat with friends, surf and cultivate new relationships around the country and the world all without leaving our home or office. Yet seeing a doctor remains an old-fashioned routine: minutes of medical attention can cost hours spent in transit or in a waiting room, only to have a face-to-face with a doctor. The familiar choreography dates back several generations, virtually unchanged since treatment from your family physician moved from your home to his or her office, where the newest diagnostic equipment of the day and the best trained supporting staff could more efficiently provide the most up to date medical care for the time. The technology revolution has brought amazing new diagnostic equipment, treatments and medications over the past several decades, but until now the process of visiting the doctor has remained nearly the same.

Telemedicine involves locating available doctors over the Internet and connecting with them, at a moment’s notice. It lets a patient see a doctor whenever and wherever you want, freeing them to choose a doctor based on merit rather than location. It can also improve the quality of medical care and reduce costs and it works well for urgent care, ongoing diagnostic monitoring and illnesses that can be diagnosed and treated without personal contact with a care giver. Telestroke, the practice of providing emergency stroke care through telemedical technology has brought lifesaving care to patients who were once located outside of the golden hour of treatment and chronically ill patients who were accustomed to spending many hours of travel time to receive treatment for a variety of illnesses and injuries have realized a new level of convenience and quality of healthcare.

In 2010, telemedicine and telehealth appeared to be on the verge of an acceptance break though. Recognizing an oncoming shortage of physicians and escalating medical care costs, the healthcare community recognized how the technology could significantly impact the future medical care costs and streamline the delivery of a broad array of healthcare services. The benefits of a new technological healthcare delivery model faced some rather significant hurdles on its way to acceptance and meaningful implementation. Much of the healthcare infrastructure, fiscal processes and protective regulations, many in place for nearly a century, needed to be revised to take advantage of the promised benefits of telemedicine. Policymakers, politicians and those early doubters within the medical community are warming to the new model and once formidable barriers to the advancement of telemedicine are beginning to tumble. Removing process barriers may be the easy part of bringing the benefits of telehealth to the everyday life of patients, changing life-long rituals and perceptions associated with traditional medical care delivery may take a bit longer. Simply recognizing the benefits of telemedicine isn’t enough; patients must embrace the concept, understand how the features benefit them and motivate them to use it.

Some say that there is no substitute for the human touch and a healing bedside manner. Consumers will always insist on traditional, face to face encounters with their doctor. Yet the advantages, convenience in particular, of new technologies and cutting edge devices are being accepted and utilized by virtually all generations. Social interactions are now ongoing connections and rarely limited to special occasion or planned encounters. Acceptance and utilization of technology in medicine will advance as the options and variety of healthcare services, accessible and the benefits of convenience and costs are realized by more and more patients.

Regardless of the methods of delivery, those who choose to enter the practice of healthcare will still be motivated to do so by the desire to help others in need, to provide treatments to those who suffer the fates of life’s many malady’s and to save lives. Having to adjust their bedside manner to accommodate the medium of delivery will do little to deter their aspirations to heal others.

In the words of Thomas Nesbitt, the Associate Vice-chancellor for Technology at the University of California Davis Health System, “A lot of people think it’s about the technology, but it’s really about a new model of care that the technology facilitates.”



Removing Well Entrenched Impediments to Advancing Telemedicine Benefits

A recently published study in Telemedicine and e-Health found that despite numerous benefits to expanding telemedicine that there are three major barriers that remain to fully implementing the benefits of telehealth. Health care professionals agree that Telemedicine has and will continue to change care delivery and patient outcomes by expanding patient access, reducing service gaps, improving service quality, providing additional clinical support, delivering enhanced patient satisfaction and improved adherence to care standards.

Advances in powerful technology is transforming care facilitation, making real-time audiovisual communication more feasible and permitting physicians the ability to remotely consult with a patient via a robot and LCD screen.  Remote specialists and physicians can treat patients and save lives with the use of a broadband card, an internet connection from a cell phone tower and a laptop. This illustrates the amazing potential of telemedicine but the study found that serious human barriers to nationwide telemedicine still remain.

The study surveyed emergency and critical care remote presence telemedicine users from 53 healthcare institutions across North America and Ireland. One hundred-and-six surveys were completed. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were physicians, 17 percent nurses and nurse practitioners and 8 percent were administrators. The results indicated that three major human barriers for telemedicine in the areas of regulation and finance need eradication to fully implement the benefits of telemedicine.

     – Licensing for Physicians. A major benefit of telemedicine is the ability to consult remotely with physicians and patients across state boundaries, but today the current approach to medical licensing requires health providers to obtain multiple state licenses and adhere to diverse and sometimes conflicting state medical practice rules. The medical licensing process is not only complicated but also lengthy and expensive and it represents a major barrier to the expansion of telemedicine.

     – Credentialing. Credentialing can become very complicated especially for hospitals with hub and spoke models because physicians from each hospital have to have the credentials at every hospital.  The time it takes it to acquire all necessary documents and finish an application is time that could be used training medical staff to use telemedicine and bring the benefits of telemedicine to deserving patients. The current method for credentialing should be streamlined to facilitate easier credentialing at multiple facilities leading the way to wider telemedicine implementation and increased accessibility.

     – Reimbursement. A huge financial issue for telemedicine is the lack of reimbursement and capital expenditure for services. Similar to licensing issues, reimbursement models are different across the states with each having its own regulation for private payers with little or no consistency for telemedicine reimbursement.

Removing these impediments to the expansion of telemedicine remains a daunting task. Change never comes easy, particularly when it requires the cooperation of various bureaucratic agencies, multiple governing bodies and a wealth of well entrenched administrative procedures and regulations that were designed and implemented in a time when advanced communication technologies were little more than fantasy and science fiction. A continued focus on removing these barriers must intensify in order to bring the many proven benefits of telemedicine to patients throughout the country and the world.



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. 



Advancing the Benefits of Telehealth and Telemedicine

Dr. Teresa Myers, a family practice physician in Copley, Ohio, describes what she can see on her computer screen during a telehealth conference. “You know what HD television looks like. You can actually see the pimples on the actors’ faces,” she says. “I had a patient who was able to shine her iPhone flashlight to the back of her throat. I could see the exudates [pus-like fluid]. If you see that, you can be pretty sure.” A few more questions, as well as having the patient take her temperature and feel and describe her lymph nodes, and Myers felt confident diagnosing strep throat and prescribing an antibiotic.  The consultation started less than five minutes after the patient logged in, cost $49 and lasted 10 minutes. The patient never left home, learned a few things about examining her own body and, two days later, said she felt much better when Myers followed up.

The rural health care workforce is stretched to its limits in most states. Despite programs operated by state, federal and local governments aimed at recruiting and retaining primary care professionals to these areas, the need outpaces the supply in many communities. Also, many of the current primary care physicians are nearing retirement and the numbers to replace them are insufficient.

For many states with large rural populations, telehealth has emerged as a cost-effective alternative to traditional face-to-face consultations or examinations between provider and patient. Telehealth is the use of technology to deliver health care, health information or health education at a distance. Real time telehealth communications allows the patient and physician to connect and interact through video conferencing, telephone or video health monitoring device.  Store and forward telehealth refers to the transmission of data, images, sound and video from one care giver to another.

Forty-two states currently provide some form of Medicaid reimbursement for telehealth services and 17 states require private insurance companies to cover telehealth services. While individual states appear to be well out in front of the federal government on supporting telehealth innovation, the federal government is finally moving to catch-up with the recent introduction of “The Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2013 (H.R. 3306).”  The bill promises to strengthen Medicare and enhance Medicaid through expanded telemedicine coverage and calls for the adoption of payment innovations to include telehealth and to make other incremental improvements to existing telehealth coverage. Another Congressional bill, “TELE-MED Act of 2013” (H.R. 3077) would permit certain Medicare providers in a state to provide telemedicine services to Medicare beneficiaries in a different state.

The convergence of medical advances, health information technology, and a nationwide broadband network are transforming the delivery of health care by bringing the health care provider and patient together in a virtual world, especially those in disadvantaged areas. Telemedicine has the potential to improve health care access and quality to patients in urban and rural America alike, but a variety of barriers, such as reimbursement and licensing issues, continue to stand in the way of more aggressive, widespread adoption.

The recent progress by state and federal governing bodies to recognize the significant advantages of increased telehealth services for all Americans with the introduction of new and meaningful legislation to address and remove established barriers to expansion, is encouraging to those in the health care community whose fundamental goal is to provide the best quality medical care to their patients no matter where they live.



Advancing Availability and Quality of Stroke Care to the Underserved

The recent collaboration between AcuteCare Telemedicine (ACT), the leading practice-based provider of Telemedicine services for hospitals in the southeast United States, and the Southeast Alabama Medical Center (SAMC) is having its desired effect for SAMC patients, providing once unavailable, advanced life saving treatments to stroke patients. The Stroke Care Network, established in Dothan, Ala., in collaboration with ACT, the Southeastern Alabama Medical Center Foundation and the Alabama Partnership for Telehealth provides stroke services for a 240-square-mile swath and includes five “spoke” hospitals located throughout southeast Alabama, southwest Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.  The efforts have proven to be critical for stroke victim patients who were once underserved by the latest in life-saving technology.

The adoption and expansion of Telestroke, other acute Teleneurology support and Telemedicine applications has a significant beneficial impact for healthcare organizations, clinicians and patients alike.  Timely access to specialty Neurological consultations via Telemedicine, help many patients avoid the debilitating effects of strokes and other Neurological emergencies due to late diagnosis or delayed administration of “clot-busting” drugs.

Dr. Gwynn, ACT, Director and Founder of the Stroke Center of Northside Hospital and recent Chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine, says, “The new telemedicine health care model is an excellent vehicle to advance the availability and quality of telestroke care to patients who remain underserved throughout the region and all around the country.” In response to their success AcuteCare Telemedicine is making an aggressive push to help other hospitals and networks that don’t have immediate access to neurologists and other specialties.

Dr. Keith A. Sanders from AcuteCare Telemedicine and Director and Founder of the Stroke Center of St. Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, says, “We are planning on extending our successful telemedicine platform to an additional two hospitals before the end of 2013 and to an additional 3 hospitals during the first quarter of 2014 as more hospitals and health networks recognize the benefits of sharing specialist services without having to house them on-site.”