It was abundantly clear in 2018 that there is a new reality in U.S. inpatient care. As I wrote in my year-end blog last month, most hospitals across the country have embraced the value equation telemedicine offers. No longer viewed as a novelty, telemedicine will continue to gain ground in hospitals in 2019—both in general hospitalist services and in a wider range of specialty offerings.
Over the past 10 years, Eagle Telemedicine has seen dramatic change in the way the healthcare industry and the public accept what we do. Once viewed as something out of a sci-fi movie, the concept of telemedicine is as familiar to most people today as a Skype or Facetime call with a friend or loved one.
Solid technology is the foundation of any successful telemedicine program, but there is another vital factor, of course: physicians. At Eagle, we hear a lot of praise for the ones who are part of our team, for their ability to make a personal connection with patients, families, and staff―no matter how great the geographical distance between them. That connection doesn’t happen by accident.
Telemedicine is a rewarding field to be in for many reasons. We make healthcare easier to access for patients and their families. We’re saving doctors from burnout. We help hospitals find a sustainable solution to complex challenges. It’s extremely gratifying to be part of an industry that does so much good. Take, for example, the recent upsurge in the number of rural county hospital leaders who raise legitimate concerns about patient transfers and don’t know how to stop the outflow, or “outmigration” as we’ve heard it referred to.
Telemedicine’s value to hospitals is demonstrated every day. In Emergency Departments (EDs), where stroke patients get the timely treatment they need in their local community hospitals without having to be transferred to a distant referral hospital. On the floor, where rounding stays on a timely schedule. In the boardroom, where examples of patient and staff satisfaction, as well as bottom-line benefits, are frequently heard. The ICU is another area where telemedicine is significantly changing how healthcare is delivered―for the better.
With our history of providing telemedicine services to hospitals for nearly a decade, it’s interesting to see the change in the industry, the growing acceptance of telemedicine by patients, providers and—slowly but surely—payers. It’s also interesting to observe the changes in how we talk about what we do. Ten years ago, we spent much of our time talking with hospital executives about why they needed us. Today, it’s more a question of when.
You’ve probably seen and heard the terms “telehealth” and “telemedicine” used interchangeably these days, both online and in conversation. It doesn’t matter whether the source is a physician or other healthcare professional or Jane or John Doe. The line between these terms is blurring. Nonetheless, there is a distinction.
Healthcare publication editors frequently ask for my predictions about inpatient telemedicine in the coming year. You may have seen one of those guest posts published last month in Electronic Health Reporter. I’ve recapped the predictions below, but to sum them up in one line: It’s going to be another good year for telemedicine―perhaps the best yet. Momentum has been building for the increased acceptance of telemedicine in the hospital setting.
This same time last year I wrote about the growing acceptance of telemedicine, but in looking back at 2017, I believe “acceptance” is no longer the right word. It’s more accurate to say that hospitals, providers and patients are embracing telemedicine with gusto. It’s a solution for many of today’s most pressing challenges.
Parity for telemedicine reimbursement is a long way off in the United States. The variations in rules by region and state can make your head spin. The good news is that telemedicine and the hospitals that implement it are coming out financial winners, even in today’s shifting payment market.