The US medical industry is in the midst of a major transformation with new regulations and technologies disrupting the traditional operating model across multiple dimensions. One of the biggest shifts in recent years has been the advent and adoption of telemedicine.
Traditionally medical visits have required patients to travel to a physician’s office or community clinic in order to receive treatment. This process is both costly and time intensive. The problem is exacerbated in urgent care situations in which a patient needs treatment quickly and cannot afford to wait for their doctor’s next available appointment. A patient in this instance is typically rerouted to their local hospital’s emergency room, where they wait for hours and pay $1,957 on average to see an on call physician . If they require follow up treatment, they need to repeat the process yet again.
Telemedicine has fundamentally uprooted this process by allowing patients to connect with doctors remotely and often from the comfort of their own homes. Teladoc, founded in 2002, is pioneering this technology.
- Teladoc is public company with 17+ million members and a network of 3,600 licensed medical professionals
- Most of their consultations are set up within 10 minutes
- 92% of patients’ issues are resolved after the first visit
- A Teladoc consultation costs $45 compared to an office visit in the US which costs $100 more on average
- Customers save $717 per episode of care 
Teladoc offers consumers and businesses a convenient and cost-effective alternative to traditional doctor’s visits and trips to the emergency room. Their entire business platform is enabled by smartphone technology and high-speed wireless internet connections. Through their platform, doctors assess patients remotely and can issue diagnoses and even write prescriptions virtually.
Telemedicine is offered through either “‘live’, real-time transmission or store and forward transmission” . While a lack of broadband infrastructure previously hindered the widespread adoption of telemedicine, it is now a technologically-empowered reality. The build out of the communication system was boosted in 2010 through the Obama administration’s proposal, Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan . Today, patients in remote locations can receive the same quality of care as those in major US cities.
Across the country hospitals have implemented the same telemedicine technology to offer hospital-to-hospital care to remote institutions within their networks, providing world class medical treatment to an entirely new set of patients who previously lacked the access and/or means. In fact, 72% of hospitals and 52% of physician groups now offer telemedicine programs . Mercy Health System, for example, has implemented a “Virtual Care Center” that offers support to ICUs and ERS in 38 hospitals across the southeast. Their program has already saved 1,000 lives and decreased average patients’ stay by 35% .
As the telemedicine industry evolves it must tackle regulation and insurance head on. Currently, each state has jurisdiction over medical regulations and licensing fees, meaning that telemedicine may be defined differently from one state to a next. This limits what types of medical practices can be authorized through telemedicine in various parts of the US. Additionally, a physician is required to be licensed in the state in which their patient resides , limiting the number of patients that can regularly and readily be covered through telemedicine systems.
Moreover, insurance has been slow to adopt telemedicine as a replacement to traditional office visits. While health plans have welcomed telemedicine as a means of treating urgent-care patients, they are “far less willing to pay for telemedicine when doctors use phone, email or video to consult with existing patients about continuing issues” . Doctor-to-doctor consultations, in which physicians at top facilities advise or support smaller hospitals in their network, are also unpopular with insurance firms and are rarely reimbursed. Medicare and Medicaid lag even further behind private insurers and currently only cover telemedicine if it is offered to patients in rural areas while they are presently at a medical facility .
Telemedicine bills have been proposed to Congress and progress is being made as more and more patients opt out of the traditional doctor-patient model and move to remote access. Telemedicine is not a replacement for all in-person medical treatment but it is quickly becoming the method of choice for certain types of treatment, such as dermatological problems, general health and behavioral health assessments . Broadband technology has not only disrupted the century-old doctor office model but it has also opened up access for new populations who had never before dreamed of receiving the quality of care now available at the touch of their fingers.
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- Teladoc Company Website https://www.teladoc.com/businesses/save-money/
- AMD Global Telemedicine http://www.amdtelemedicine.com/telemedicine-resources/telemedicine-technology.html
- Gruessner, Vera. “The History of Remote Monitoring Telemedicine Technology.” mHealth Intelligence. 9 Nov. 2015 . Web. 17 Nov. 2016. http://mhealthintelligence.com/news/the-history-of-remote-monitoring-telemedicine-technology
- Beck, Melinda. “How Telemedicine Is Transforming Health Care.” Wsj.com. Wall Street Journal, 26 June 2016. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.