Americans are opting for telehealth appointments with medical providers as hospitals in remote communities are closing down, and there is a shortage of local primary care doctors, specialists and other providers.
Long-distance doctor-to-doctor consultations via video are considered as forms of telehealth or telemedicine services.
According to a recent NPR poll of rural Americans it has been found that nearly a quarter have used some kind of telehealth service within the past few years. 14% say they received a diagnosis or treatment from a doctor or other health care professional via email, text messaging, live text chat, a mobile app, or a live video like FaceTime or Skype. 15% say they received a diagnosis or treatment from a doctor or other health professional over the phone.
Critical care paediatrician, James Marcin at UC Davis Children's Hospital, directs the University of California, Davis, Center for Health and Technology and regularly consults via a telehealth monitor with primary care doctors in remote hospitals in rural areas.
Marcin says, they are able to put the telemedicine cart virtually at the patient’s bedside and within minutes their physicians are able to see the child, talk with the family members and assist in the care.
If not for telehealth, the cost of getting routine care are significant barriers for rural patients. He says patients often have to drive to their Sacramento offices the night before and spend the night in a hotel because, it’s a five-hour trip each way. There are additional costs for many patients, such as childcare services and missed days of work.
Telehealth is extremely useful as a video is truly worth a thousand words and it can mean patients don’t have to make costly time-consuming trips to consult a specialist.
Attorney Mei Kwong, executive director of the Center for Connected Health Policy in Sacramento, believes that telehealth services can eliminate barriers to good health care in rural America.
She says that policies that regulate which telehealth services get paid, lag behind the technology. Many policies lag 10 to 15 years behind what the technology is able to serve. This is unfortunate for underserved communities where there is a shortage of specialists.
Changes are being made in state, federal and private insurance policies but, slowly.