Can Telemedicine Work?

Just when we are talking about going back to the basics of house calls on one end of the spectrum, the other end of the spectrum is beginning a pilot program in telemedicine.

House calls will begin being expanded soon and paid for by Medicare for those with multiple serious conditions and other situations that make house calls the best form of care for them.

Now, with that out of the way, Medicare is still looking for ways to provide effective and adequate treatment to patients while containing costs.  They are finally looking at telemedicine.

Telemedicine has been around for quite some time now.  Some private insurers have paid for certain treatment by telemedicine.  For example, I have a nephew who was born with serious heart problems and had a pacemaker installed when he was younger, nearly a decade ago.  Once his initial treatment was completed, telemedicine was used to keep him in sync of his heart surgeon and keep his heart surgeon abreast of his condition. 

At the time, what would happen was that we would call a particular phone number and use our phone and another instrument to measure my nephew’s heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure and other vitals, as well as whether the pacemaker was working.  The doctor would get the reports and then we would have a conference by phone.  If there were problems or complications we would go to the local emergency room where my nephew’s doctor would communicate with the emergency room doctor by phone and computer.  If things got too serious, we would get my nephew up to the Children’s Hospital where his doctor was on staff.

Today’s telemedicine is more advanced than it was a decade ago.  There are cameras and TV screens that allow doctors and patients to see one another.  Patients have some of the instruments such as stethoscopes, so that they can be instructed by the doctor when and how to use them so he can help them remotely.  There are also touch screens patients can use to answer doctor’s questions to aid in a diagnosis. 

Now that insurance companies – and Medicare – have realized what doctors and patients have been saying for years, they are finally trying telemedicine out.  Doctors and patients have been telling insurers that it is better for everyone that telemedicine evaluations, where appropriate, cost under $1,500 on average as opposed to a hospital admission or other tests that often add up to somewhere between $2,500 to $15,000.

It is good news that Medicare is now looking at ways to see if telemedicine will work well for certain patients.  If it only keeps a few patients out of each hospital, Medicare can save potentially over $100,000 per hospital while patients receive quality care.  This is an issue to keep an eye on.

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