Telemedicine in 2017: The year the technology catches up to the promise

Now that the New Year is off and running and a new President is in office, patients and healthcare providers are wondering what the future of healthcare IT will be.

Ever since the passing of the Affordable Care Act and the concurrent shift to value-based care, healthcare IT –particularly, telemedicine – has become more important than ever. But telemedicine has been around for almost 20 years, so what can we expect to happen in 2017 that hasn't so far?

The answer: widespread adoption. After years in which the technology needed for telemedicine and demand for its services grew slowly, the time has arrived for healthcare providers to expand their practices to include virtual clinics, allowing them to achieve the true promise of telemedicine. This will be possible because technology vendors have begun providing innovative solutions for live video visits via smartphones and the web combined with access to real-time patient data and the ability for doctors to easily schedule and conduct virtual visits on their smartphones and devices.

The benefits of expanding medical practices to include virtual clinics are numerous. Telemedicine is built around the mission of delivering quality care when and where patients need it most, which includes providing service in the most timely, effective and cost-efficient way. In many instances, this can be accomplished virtually, without the need for patients to visit a hospital or doctor's physical office.

Virtual visits represent an important new point of care in the evolution of healthcare, offering a more advanced level of access and convenience to medical services. By expanding practices to include virtual clinics, healthcare providers can deliver more timely and convenient care, especially for those patients undergoing active treatment, and for those with chronic illness. Doctors will be able to easily shift between their virtual and physical waiting room, which will allow them to see more patients than ever before. Virtual clinics allow doctors to deal with minor health issues, such as flus and colds, remotely, making more space in actual waiting rooms for seriously ill patients.

But in order to reap the benefits that virtual care offers, health systems and other providers need a flexible telemedicine platform that can allow easy collaboration across specialists when patients require multiple doctors in disparate geographic locations. They need a solution that is able to extend the same care that has traditionally only been delivered in high-cost centers to the patient at home or in tertiary care settings. This type of solution can empower health systems to improve access in a timelier and more convenient manner, resulting in significant, positive impact on patient health and long-term outcomes through enhanced care coordination, improved continuity of care, decreased response times and reduced medical costs from unnecessary ER visits and costly hospital readmissions.

Vendors recognize this, and have begun offering flexible, private-label virtual care management solutions that provide the features and functions needed to practice any form of medicine suitable for virtual care. We believe that the first wave of adopters of these virtual care management solutions will be providers that have established trusted relationships with patients. These reputable healthcare systems and providers are best suited to implement these telemedicine tools to serve their communities because under the recognized and trusted brand of a health system, medical group, or medical center, the patient can be assured to receive high-quality care provided by the physicians and caregivers they routinely see.

Telemedicine has come a long way since it was first introduced, and in 2017, it will continue to change the healthcare delivery model, meeting the demands of a new generation of patients for remote counsel and care and of physicians who are eager to reap the benefits of a virtual care offering. In 2017, the virtual visit will become a standard link that covers the last mile of care for many health systems and medical centers, ensuring better outcomes for patients and a more economic, efficient model of care for providers.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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