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Real Life Health Problems and Video Medical Solutions

The skepticism is there:  patients who refuse to speak to the doctor outside the familiar confines of the physician’s office; and doctors who scoff at the notion of practicing their art digitally. Nonetheless, while online video chatting has not yet grown to the full extent of its potential, every day, more and more patients log onto their computers to consult with their doctors. The insurance companies see the efficiencies, too, and many have begun to reimburse for such services.


Healthcare Costs 15% of all Money Spent


Recently, President Obama surprised many with a bold proclamation that the biggest threat to the U.S. bottom line was not insolvent banks, paralyzed credit markets or trillion dollar bailouts, but rather the skyrocketing costs of modern healthcare. Healthcare costs account for over 15% of the money spent in America, and this number is climbing twice as fast as the current rate of inflation. In response to these mind boggling costs, medical scientists have been hard at work building a suite of novel and innovative medical solutions, designed to help pare these costs down to more manageable levels. 


Convenience and Cost-Savings Drive Online Medicine


Telemedicine came about over 30 years ago, using what would now be considered ancient technologies.  Led out by exploding levels of bandwidth, the state of the art in telemedicine is becoming increasingly sophisticated.  One market research firm recently projected that while roughly $3 billion was spent on telemedicine in 2010, the figure will grow to nearly $8 billion by 2015.  In addition to the growth of supportive technology, people are becoming ever busier. Thus, they are lured by the convenience factor of taking care of their healthcare from the comfort of the home or office.  It seems evident that the cost savings, coupled to the convenience factor, are the driving force behind advances in video chat-based medicine.


Traditional 9 to 5 schedules are becoming a historical anecdote, as well. Using available technology and online medical practices, patients can now log on 24/7, and obtain an appointment with a qualified physician in as little as 10 minutes. This brings another benefit into play:  patients employing this technology may now experience less delay for the medical attention necessary, reducing their dependence on pricier emergency medical care. In addition to greater acceptance by the health insurance industry, video medicine is not limited to the insured. Patients who lack medical insurance are able to obtain the same, quality care for as little as $50 for a consultation.


The list of ailments treated using this technology is fairly long. The most commonly treated conditions include urinary tract infections, acne, sinus infections, allergies and fevers. Nonetheless, more involved problems like anxiety disorders and addiction can also be managed through telemedicine. After completing their consultations, video chat doctors can then easily electronically prescribe medications and order laboratory or imaging studies, in order to complete their virtual examinations.


U.S. Government Supportive, Some Physicians Skeptical


As might be expected, a good number of family physicians remain skeptical. One physician interviewed voiced concern that there is no way that an online physician can fully appreciate the patient’s health issues through a digital medium, noting the value of non-verbal communication in the patient/physician interface. Further to that, she described a scenario where a situation that seems straight forward enough, perhaps an ear infection, may be anything but that. The problem with a digital consultation is that it may not give the doctor a full sense of the patients underlying problems.  Subtleties such as signs of depression or domestic abuse may not be easily observed.


The U.S. government, while generally supportive, has not given the green light for unlimited video medicine.  While, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rolled back some of the restrictions previously in place regulating the practice of telehealth, current government programs will only pay for online consultations for patients in rural areas, while withholding reimbursement for those living within urban centers. Furthermore, some services, such as diabetes self-management and smoking cessation therapy, also do not qualify for coverage. 


ATA Hosts Telemedicine Policy Summit


The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) has been working to get the government to free its restrictions. In fact, they are organizing a Telemedicine Policy Summit, in late June 2013, to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to listen and interact with Congressional leaders, key federal agency leaders and policy thinkers. Participation is expected from healthcare providers, medical societies and consumer groups. While ATA notes that current reimbursement guidelines are formidable, this effort to move the needle on healthcare delivery and public policy regarding telemedicine (to include video medicine), demonstrates how much is at stake, and how hard the emerging industry is willing to fight for telemedicine.


Five Quick Steps to Online Healthcare


1. Determine your symptoms and make a list of these. Research medications that treat these symptoms, so you can discuss the drugs with the online doctor.


2. Find a U.S. licensed doctor that offers healthcare consultations. Do a quick search to determine that the professional is able to write prescriptions in the U.S.


3. Pay the fee, fill out the required data forms, and follow contact instructions.


4. Consult the doctor via webcam or telephone to discuss your symptoms, medical history, and requested medicine.


5. Fill your prescription online, but be careful to choose a pharmacy authorized to dispense medications in the U.S.


References


Slater, C. (2009). The doctor of the future. Retrieved from: http://www.fastcompany.com/1266043/doctor-future


Canadian Medical Association (2011). The Skype Solution. CMAJ, 183(12): E798. Retrieved from: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/183/12/E798.full.pdf+html


American Telemedicine Association (2013). Federal Telemedicine Policy Summit. Retrieved from: http://www.americantelemed.org/ata-federal-telemedicine-policy-summit/summit-overview

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