We’ve all seen the sci-fi episodes or tech company commercials: the ones where a child is sick and the doctor beams into the kid’s bedroom and talks to him, then runs some sort of laser across his tummy to diagnose his illness.
Telemedicine is the use of technology to engage patients and physicians virtually, rather than in person. Some may think of it as the futuristic goal of never needing to go into a doctor’s office again; instead we’ll have holograms, virtual doctor visits and space-age technology.
However, the reality is telemedicine isn’t exactly as advanced as episodes of Star Trek would have us believe, although technology is being put to use in Colorado. We have glimmers of hope for what telemedicine might offer to patients who struggle to access health care. That’s because physicians who engage in it still comply with state licensing requirements and medical board regulations, and meet the same standard of care they’d deliver if meeting with a patient face-to-face, so we know it can be an viable, quality way to increase access to health care across the state.
Telemedicine and its related practice, telehealth, are being used in select areas in Colorado. We learned about this at the recent SNAC Lab held by the Colorado Health Institute. (SNAC Labs are quarterly meetings-of-the-minds in which leaders of various nonprofits, health organizations and health providers discuss health care access issues, developments and data).
A great example of telehealth in action is included in a recent report from Colorado Health Institute. While in Vail, a man began having stroke symptoms and, through a virtual audio and visual connection, neurologists at Denver’s Swedish Medical Center worked with the local physicians to diagnose his stroke.
Today, telehealth is truly solving some access issues, such as providing patients with a convenient way to monitor their chronic illness, like diabetes and high-blood pressure. Test results, prescriptions and examining images from MRIs or X-Rays are often done through patient portals or shared between physicians’ technology networks. And access to specialty physicians, such as the neurologist in our example above, can be more feasible with technology.
But can we take it further? Could we do a virtual visit between a physician and a patient? Could a specialist see a patient in Grand Junction one minute and a patient in Limon the next through high-tech video conferencing? Beyond eliminating unnecessary ER visits, will patients be able to send images of injuries, report on health readings and get personal attention from a health care provider no matter where they are? It’s certainly interesting to consider, and something that may help Colorado solve its difficult health access issues.
So what are the next steps?
CHI recently unveiled a report on the potential for telehealth in Colorado and there are three important take-aways:
- Telehealth can improve access to high-quality health care.
- Administrative activities (like payment issues and regulatory hurdles) are limiting adoption of telehealth among care providers.
- There are opportunities for expansion of telehealth across Colorado.
By supporting Colorado’s physicians, and giving them the tools, education and flexibility to implement intelligent telehealth solutions, we may take another important step in solving Colorado’s health access issues.
Another way to promote health care expansion is to contact your legislator. You can use this LINK to find your legislator and we offer a sample letter.