What if your next doctor’s appointment took place on your couch, in your pajamas?
It’s possible now through telemedicine, which allows patients to talk to their doctor via smartphone, webcam or secure messaging. Experts say it’s one of many ways modern technology is making health care more accessible, affordable and efficient.
Panelists at the most recent Health Forum of West Michigan talked about how virtual health and emerging technologies are changing health care for the better. The event was sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Blue Care Network.
Joseph Brennan is senior director at MedNow, Spectrum Health’s telehealth system, which offers 24/7 virtual appointments for low-acuity ailments such as allergies, fever, headache, nausea and sinus issues. If a physical exam isn’t necessary to diagnose a patient and decide on a course of treatment, Brennan said it doesn’t make sense to require patients to come into an office.
Telehealth appointments offer convenience and save money, Brennan said. The same outcome of a $370 emergency room visit, which could include drive time and a long wait, could potentially be achieved through a $45 MedNow appointment, he explained.
The technology could also help spread health resources where they are needed. For example, Greenville Public Schools currently utilizes MedNow’s system to help their district nurse virtually see students at all of the district’s buildings. Brennan said he anticipates that 100 schools will implement similar models by the end of the 2016/2017 school year.
“Telemedicine provides the opportunity for us to collaborate with each other,” Brennan said.
As a physician, Ken Johnson is excited about the possibilities offered through virtual care. He’s chief medical officer at Emergency Care Specialists, which offers its own telehealth service – Answer Health Care on Demand – a joint venture with physician-owned Answer Health.
He sees benefits for employers in the way of reduced absenteeism and for workers with jobs that don’t fit neatly into a doctor’s office schedule. For example, third-shift workers might end up at the emergency room at 3 a.m. for non-emergency reasons because it’s the only time they have to seek health care.
Nursing home staff could also rely on the virtual expertise of more experienced doctors before sending residents on an expensive ambulance ride, relieving the emergency care system of unnecessary visits.
No matter where you receive care – virtually, at your doctor’s office, at the hospital, through a pharmacist, counselor, or specialist – keeping track of your personal health history is getting easier through electronic health records.
Making sure those records talk to each other is the aim of emerging health information exchanges.
“The point of care is moving,” said Tim Pletcher, executive director of the Michigan Health Information Network Shared Services (MiHIN), which is working to create a statewide infrastructure to help hospitals and providers securely share data.
Keeping all of your health care providers on the same page with your health history means a more efficient and less redundant course of care. Doug Dietzman, executive director of Great Lakes Health Connect, another provider of health information exchange services, said it boils down to a personal story for everyone. His wife carried a folder around when their son was diagnosed with pancreatitis as a way to keep appointments, medications and treatments organized.
As the sharing of information becomes more standardized and widespread, Dietzman envisions a future where a doctor anywhere could find out critical information about a patient quickly, potentially avoiding serious complications or lapses in care.
“Our goal is to improve the health of the community,” he said. “Technology can help enable that.”
Watch a webcast of the full forum here.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan offers 24/7 online health care through Amwell™, American Well’s award-winning and easy-to-use online health care technology. As a member, you can also keep track of your health with our easy-to-use app.
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Photo by NEC Corporation of America with Creative Commons license.