What is Telemedicine?
Telemedicine may be defined as a medical service, which involves provision of healthcare via electronic communication to improve patient's health status. Applications of this service date back four decades. However, the potential clinical applications have surfaced recently, with healthcare reform emphasis on efficient, cost-effective, value-based care. The use of telemedicine is spreading rapidly and is now starting to be integrated into healthcare systems, hospitals, long term facilities, home health care, private physician offices, as well as consumers' home and workplace.
Long waiting times and the tremendous difficulty experienced by health systems in recruiting neurologists, are reflective of the growing shortage of neurologists.
According to the Association of American Medical Colleges Center for Workforce Studies, there will be a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 specialists over the next decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans over the age of 65 will increase by 36 percent in the next decade. The stage is set for drastic shortage of specialists, as one third of all physicians are deemed likely to retire over the next 10 years. According to the American Academy of Neurology, the number of practicing neurologists will grow from 16,366 in 2012 to no more than 18,000 by 2025. However, the demand for neurologists is much higher, and approximated at 21,000. This 3000- doctor disparity will likely have a significant impact on healthcare industry.
The problem will likely be compounded by the drastic reimbursement cuts already implemented by CMS, in the face of an aging population. The shortage of neurologists will have a significant impact on expeditious, quality care of patients. There was, on average, a waiting time period of 28 business days for a new patient to see a neurologist in 2010. That number in 2012 was 35 business days.
There are many hospitals around the nation that lack 24/7 neurologic coverage. Telemedicine offers a cost-effective, high quality alternative to the underserved neurologic care of many hospital systems.
As defined by the American Telemedicine Association, there are four fundamental benefits:
Improved Access. With shortage of neurologists, there are long waiting time for neurologic expertise at both inpatient and ambulatory healthcare facilities. Telemedicine technology helps improve access to patients and allows healthcare providers and facilities expand their reach to millions of patients across the nation, in both rural and urban areas.
Cost Efficiencies. With emphasis on value-based care, the Affordable Care Act emphasizes reducing cost of care through increased efficiency, reduced travel times, fewer and shorter hospitalizations, and reduced readmissions. The hospital systems are also incentivized to develop programs that promote access care in their community and do so with minimal cost.
Improved Quality. Studies have repeatedly shown that the quality of care provided by telemedicine is comparable with traditional in-person consultation, making Telemedicine a cost effective solution to the poorly accessed health systems. It has also been shown that Telemedicine provides a superior service as compared with local non-specialist emergent care available in some rural hospitals.
Patient Satisfaction. Superior patient satisfaction has been repeatedly demonstrated with telemedicine technology. The technology reduces travel time and related stress and uncertainty to the patient, waiting time for specialist consultation, and improved access to specialty and advanced care, otherwise not available.