Telemedicine’s Promise and Challenges

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Mobility: How It's Changing Our Lives

Nowhere are the changes that the growth of telecommunications brings more significant than in medicine and health care. Indeed, the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT) is likely to make that impact even greater as time passes.

In addition to the common concerns around telecommunications, telemedicine adds worries about legalities. What is okay to do via remotely? What law is in effect if a doctor is, for instance, in Oklahoma but the patient is in Texas? If a procedure or diagnosis is incorrect and lawsuits are filed, where is the trial held?

Other complexities include significant procedural questions. Last week, the American Telemedicine Association approved telepathology guidelines. It sounds like a comprehensive document, according to a report in The National Law Review. The rules, according to the story:

…provide updated guidance on specific applications, practices, benefits, limitations, and regulatory issues that may arise in the practice of telepathology. The guidelines apply to all types of telepathology configurations, regardless of the hardware device utilized, including static (store-and-forward), dynamic (synchronous), and hybrid static-dynamic implementations.

All of these questions, and others, need to be answered quickly. Deloitte earlier this month released a report that pointed to the rise of telemedicine, or eVisits. The firm found that this year the cost of traditional office visits worldwide will be $175 billion. The number of eVisits will grow to 100 million this year, which is a 400 percent increase from just two years ago. Pushing the percentage of eVisits toward 30 percent to 40 percent, Deloitte suggests, could create a $50 billion to $60 billion market.

Deloitte is not the only firm that sees the huge potential. Clinical Innovation + Technology reports that Towers Watson found that telemedicine can cut costs more than $6 billion annually for companies in the United States. Companies are good at sensing a way to save a buck, and they seem to be onboard with telemedicine:

In a survey [of] 1,000 U.S. employers, 37 percent said that by 2015 they expect to offer their employees telemedicine consultations as a low-cost alternative to emergency room or physician office visits for nonemergency health issues, according to Towers. Another 34 percent are considering offering telemedicine for 2016 or 2017. Overall, the percentage of employers offering telemedicine is expected to rise from 22 percent to 37 percent, a 68 percent increase.

Telemedicine really is happening. A story in the TribLive, a site that covers western Pennsylvania, details the first use of an iPad by EMS in the state. The patient was a diabetic who was nauseous and shaky. The paramedics gave her an iPad that she used to interface with a physician. She was able to stay home, eat and follow up with a more relaxed visit the next day. A director at the paramedic firm says that telemedicine is a help to EMS when treatment is outside of normal procedures, with stroke victims, with those who refuse treatment, and for patients with which EMS personnel are not comfortable.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Intenet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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