Telemedicine is simply the use of telecommunications to provide healthcare. There are a variety of other names associated with telemedicine such as telehealth, connected medicine, mobile healthcare and remote monitoring. Regardless of the name, telemedicine offers patients better access to healthcare wherever they are located. Instead of going to the doctor, telemedicine allows the doctor to come to you!

On the horizon

"It is surprising that the use of telemedicine is not more widespread. But change is coming with lowered costs of telecommunications, increased interest by physicians and consumers alike and the discovery that such innovation can not only deliver health care to more people, but also do it in ways that save money and improve the quality of care."

Last year, approximately 11 million people received telemedicine services in the United States. However, many were not even aware of it. With digital imaging, radiologists no longer have to be located next to an imaging device. Over 5 million Americans had x-rays, MRI scans or CT studies read by radiologists who were located offsite. About one million Americans have had a pacemaker or another implantable cardiac device monitored at a distance. In addition, over 300,000 patients received remote telemental health consults.

However, realizing the full benefits of telemedicine still requires barriers to be overcome. Medicare and other public and private insurers are slow to recognize and pay for telemedicine services. State and federal regulations of health provider licensing and medical practices are often still geared to the way healthcare was delivered decades ago.

Modernizing healthcare

While progress is finally on the march, the adoption of technological innovation in healthcare has lagged behind almost every other industry. Consumers would never think of patronizing a bank that did not offer ATM services. Even bookstores and music stores have long since gone digital and online.

So in a way, it is surprising that the use of telemedicine is not more widespread. But change is coming with lowered costs of telecommunications, increased interest by physicians and consumers alike and the discovery that such innovation can not only deliver health care to more people, but also do it in ways that save money and improve the quality of care.