Introduction to Telemedicine Software
Telemedicine services allow you to remotely connect with patients over long distances to address their needs and, in some cases, dispense treatment. Conversing with your patients over live video chat allows you to physically examine them, and instant messaging allows you to immediately field their questions and concerns.
There are varying levels of telemedicine that are effective for different types of practices. Many telemedicine platforms utilize remote biometric devices that allow you to record a patient's medical information such as weight, blood pressure and glucose levels. Other telemedicine services are simple communication applications that allow you to have virtual checkups with many patients, increasing your income and expanding your clientele.
Telemedicine also has research applications, which is useful to universities and pharmaceutical companies that conduct long-term clinical studies. This can make it quicker and more convenient for researchers to check in with study participants and collect data.
There are several ways to implement telemedicine in your practice or hospital:
- Video chat with patients who are bedridden or unable to travel to your practice. Caregivers can use remote biometric devices to record vital information.
- Set up remote clinics in rural areas with limited medical access. Trained staff can collect health data with biometric devices while you hold virtual checkups from miles away.
- Special ambulance kits allow you to remotely be on the scene of emergencies and ambulance calls. This can save patients costly ambulance trips if they're treatable on scene.
- Increase your revenue by contracting with telemedicine platforms that allow you to converse with new patients remotely. Field concerns, give diagnoses and, depending on state laws, prescribe medications.
- If your hospital needs the immediate help of an off-site specialist, set up a video link between the specialist and your patient. Some services eliminate the need to keep certain specialists on staff, as they have them on call for you to utilize.
Telemedicine doesn't just apply to general physicians. There are services tailored to psychiatry, dentistry, physical therapy and many other specialties.
Using this guide
This buyer's guide will explain the most important things you need to know before selecting a telemedicine platform and help you decide if telemedicine is right for your practice. When reading this guide, ask yourself these questions:
- What type of telemedicine service is best for my needs?
- Can I feasibly implement it in my practice?
- Will my state's laws make it worth it?
How to Implement Telemedicine
Telemedicine can be implemented in many ways, and, depending on the size or specialty of your practice, there is a variety of services for you to consider.
Telemedicine is an emerging field, but it is already saving practices and hospitals money. A general care visit through telemedicine is, on average, $100 cheaper than an in-person appointment. By quickly seeing patients remotely, it can prevent unnecessary hospital readmissions and reduce your overhead.
It will be up to you to decide how much time and money you want to invest in telemedicine, as it will require a change in your office dynamic and finding a balance between your in-house patients and remote patients. However, there is an estimated return of investment of $3.30 for every $1 spent on a telemedicine program. There are already practitioners who are full-time virtual doctors.
Pricing for telemedicine varies depending on the company, the size of your practice and to what scale you want to implement it. You'll likely receive a quote from the company for the custom system you'll design with the service. Be aware that most software solutions will charge a monthly or annual fee.
Since telemedicine lives online, you will need to have a strong internet connection. Most telemedicine services recommend that you and your patients use broadband-level speeds for consistent connection for live chat. This can be a barrier if you're trying to reach rural areas that are without updated internet speeds.
The best equipment requires little setup and should be easy for both you and your patient or their caregiver to use. Basic setups will require you both to have a computer with a microphone and web camera for video chatting with patients. Some services can provide you with these.
For remote biometric devices, either the company can lease them or you can purchase them from third-party vendors if they're compatible with the service. Some equipment is proprietary to the service, however. These devices can include stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors and scales. These devices work digitally and will remotely upload results to the system for you to view.
Some platforms just require a simple application that allows you to converse with patients over mobile phones or tablets.
Working with patients remotely is a different experience from working with them in person, so a telemedicine platform that provides training on how to interact with them is a great service if you've never done it before. Complicated equipment like ambulance kits require training, so it's essential that you find a service willing to provide such training. If you plan on working with caregivers or remote staff members, they will require training as well.
Laws Concerning Telemedicine
Telemedicine is still a new tool for doctors, so when it comes to applying medical law and insurance statutes, states are still grappling with how to deal with them. As a result, laws regarding telemedicine vary from state to state, which can restrict how much you can do with it and how you can get paid. Depending on where your practice is located, it may be impractical for you to implement telemedicine.
While telemedicine allows you to communicate with patients over long distances, in most cases, it still needs to be within state borders. You must have a valid license to practice medicine in the state your patient is in. You may be restricted to using telemedicine in the state your practice is located, unless your state's license is accepted by select other states. You can check with your state medical board to find out where your license is accepted.
HIPAA and FDA
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) is the main reason that you can't simply perform telemedicine over Skype or another public chat program. An acceptable telemedicine program must be secured and adhere to the strict privacy standards set by HIPAA. Communications through these programs are heavily encrypted, and patients' health data is secured in approved databases. Likewise, any medical devices that you use in conjunction with the telemedicine platform must be FDA approved.
Reputable telemedicine companies publicly state that they follow these standards, but it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure you are following the law by using legally certified technology.
How insurance works with telemedicine
State laws differ on how practices can be reimbursed for telemedicine.
- Private insurers, for the most part, have embraced telemedicine as a way for clients to spend less on health care, as it leads to less expensive trips to the doctor's office or emergency room. Although only 18 states have laws that require private insurers to provide coverage for telemedicine in some form, most major insurance providers already include telemedicine in their plans nationwide.
- Medicaid covers telemedicine in 16 states, and most of those states only allow live video chat. There are exceptions depending on the state, so check with your state medical board.
- Medicare is even stricter in that it can only cover telemedicine when it is implemented for patients at an approved medical facility in a designated rural area.
- Direct payment is an option for certain telemedicine platforms, but it is likely to be costly for patients.
These services can accept major credit cards and sometimes FSA or HSA cards.
Many platforms allow you to prescribe medication to a patient virtually, but the laws regarding this also depend on the state. A few states allow you to prescribe medication freely, but most states set the restriction that you can prescribe non-narcotic medication only. A handful of states does not permit ePrescriptions at all.