Expanding health access via telemedicine

People who deal in real estate like to say that the three most important things to consider when buying or selling a house are “location, location and location.” But when it comes to the way physicians, nurses and pharmacists provide health services to their patients, location ain’t what it used to be.

Thanks to a rising crescendo of telehealth and telepharmacy technology and applications, many patients no longer have to trek to a doctor’s office, clinic or pharmacy to see a health practitioner, get a diagnosis for many conditions, or obtain counseling on the management or prevention of those conditions. The explosion of online communications, video conferencing and mobile apps has made it possible for patients and their caregivers to connect in real time and conduct a virtual visit through on-camera dialogue or Internet chat room.

The trend is fueled by a host of powerful factors — including urgent, cost-cutting efforts by government and employer-based health plan payers; a shortage of primary care physicians; the difficulties in serving millions of patients in remote locations who lack access to doctors, hospitals, clinics and pharmacies; and the explosion in new mobile health apps and other technologies. And an increasing number of pharmacists and physicians are turning to those technologies to deliver spot diagnoses, counseling and prescription services to patients in their homes or other remote locations via computer screen or kiosk.

A recent study from Manhattan Research found that 7% of U.S. doctors are already using online video conferencing to communicate with some of their patients, and that number is bound to rise as cost-cutting imperatives increasingly weigh on the nation’s fractured health system and communication technologies continue to improve.

“As video chatting becomes more common, this type of communication is emerging as a way for physicians to consult with patients about non-urgent issues, such as follow up questions from an office visit, or to connect with geographically dispersed patient populations that may not have nearby access to specialists,” the research firm said in a report.

Many pharmacies are also on board with the ability to counsel patients in remote locations via live video links, and to dispense prescriptions through secure kiosks at stores and other locations in smaller towns and rural areas that can’t support a brick-and-mortar pharmacy.

How significant is the telehealth trend? And how much will it supplant traditional, in-person delivery of diagnostic or pharmacy-related services? Please share your thoughts by clicking on the comment button; as always, your feedback is appreciated.

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