Telemedicine Fills Primary Gap

Posted on January 14, 2011


Last month at the Virginia Rural Health Association’s (VRHA) Annual Meeting, I was able to learn more about telemedicine.  Luckily for the residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia, their legislature approved its use as a substitute (from a billing standpoint) for face-to-face care.  This is the kind of jump-start a nascent technology and care model needs. About 25% of the vendors at the conference were touting telemedicine services and technologies, all very interesting.

I learned that wireless kits exist that would allow doctors to go into very rural areas (think Africa) and transmit information or allow consultation with physicians anywhere else in the world. I learned such a service would not work in the U.S. because of HIPAA regulations for patient privacy. I learned encryption of such data must still be sent hard-wired to meet HIPAA standards.

I grew up in a relatively small city  of 30,000 and while growing up, I had to exert effort to learn about what was going on with trends of most kinds, and in the big cities since the nearest large city was over three hours away.  Therefore, I enjoy when unlikely sources drive innovation, particularly in rural areas. Due to lack of healthcare access, rural health is driving telemedicine innovation.

After seeing a couple demonstrations, telemedicine offers a perfect alternative to primary care treatment that cannot be done in person. And, primary care involves things like psychiatric care, social work, and dental care. This will help fill the void of doctors and spell a lot of the pressure on certain immobile patient populations to not have to travel for care.  Trips can be shorter (to clinic buildings where telemedicine is set up), or care can either come to them / be set up for them to access it from their house.

There are challenges to telemedicine.  Not all five senses are available to healthcare professionals in the telemedicine setting, and there will inevitably be some things lost in translation, so to speak. Encryption of patient data is still a concern. And high speed internet is required for a smooth, virtual interface and even many non-rural areas do not have access to high speed internet connections.

Still, it is now apparent to me this will be a legitimate means of care in the future, and quite possibly not just for rural patients. Telemedicine will not carry a stigma of ‘have not’, and could even have some technological cache for certain populations. In my lifetime we may have such technology installed in our homes to allow for telemedicine simply out of convenience and preference, not as a substitute.  We know getting sick and requiring medical care for any reason is not convenient; maybe care will be.

Posted in: Rural Healthcare