Telemedicine is a new trend that many companies are taking advantage of. Because it is such a recent innovation, many business professionals are still unsure of whether it will benefit their company in terms of human capital management or not. Early adopters have so far had mixed experiences with the product.
According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine is the exchange of medical information between different sites to benefit a patient's medical health status. This includes referral services, remote monitoring and medical education services. the most common practice is using telemedicine to see a doctor who lives far away remotely. The service is considered part of a company's overall health plan.
Healthcare Dive reported that employer support of telemedicine is relatively new, and the service has also been adopted at a faster pace – over half of employers plan to cover telemedicine consultations in 2015. Many are going this route because the Affordable Care Act is making it more expensive for companies to give their employees healthcare.
Schools are also becoming interested in telemedicine, the Baltimore Sun wrote. Schools in Maryland are linking with local hospital pediatricians to provide an instant examination of sore throats, skin rashes and ear infections. Parents can also sit in on the examination using a special app. The idea is that students won't have to miss school for basic doctor visits.
Pros and cons
The service may not be right for everyone, however. According to Fortune Magazine, the people employees would see won't be their own doctor, but rather a physician who has just gotten off work and wants to make some extra money by performing examinations. Doctors log into the service and then select patients from a screen. They are actually not allowed to see the patients in real life once they begin seeing them through a telemedicine service. Doctors can prescribe medication, although nurses are available to review the charts produced from a telemedicine visit to ensure an accurate diagnoses.
In a price comparison, Bloomberg Businessweek found that a regular doctor's visit would cost $100, but a visit to an online doctor costs only $40.
Some people are wary of the practice, however.
"I don't think we know how it works, the risks and benefits at the moment," says James Perrin, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "The only way to diagnose strep is with a test. Best practices say you can't just throw an antibiotic at somebody [without a test first]."
Is it beneficial?
Ultimately, the major problem with telemedicine is that it is arguably not the same as seeing a doctor in real life, according to U.S. News and World Report. For one thing, computer cameras are for the most part still not at a high enough definition to be the same even as a photograph in a textbook, let alone seeing someone's throat in real life. For treating serious ailments, it may be better also to talk with someone who knows a patient's medical history thoroughly, versus someone new every time. U.S. News cited that a major problem with telemedicine is that it can lead to inadequate assessments because many non-verbal cues can "slip through the cracks," and doctors cannot feel a person's arm to see if it is stiff in a certain way.
Whether it leads to less expenses for a company in the long run, versus problems with misdiagnoses leading to further time off and insurance payments is still not clear. Many doctors appear ambivalent about the practice, although they say that it is still helpful in certain instances.
"I think there a lot of good uses for it," said rural family doctor Raymond Christensen. "I don't think you can start an IV with it. There are places where we still have to have people touching people. But it brings a higher level of care … than we've been able to provide before."