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Remote technologies increasingly critical for healthcare providers

March 03, 2014

Two of the greatest challenges that healthcare providers face are time and distance. Doctors, nurses and clinicians are frequently overworked, while patients in rural areas often struggle to access the medical care they need due to simple geographic isolation.

Increasingly, healthcare providers are turning to remote technologies and related IT services as a means of overcoming these issues. Thanks to telemedicine solutions, healthcare professionals are able to consult with and even treat patients from afar. Doctors are consequently able to leverage these tools to assist more patients than ever before, including many individuals whom they would otherwise have trouble reaching at all.

Telemedicine rising
According to the American Telemedicine Association, more than half of all hospitals in the United States utilize remote solutions in some capacity, with significant results, the Journal-News reported.

"Telemedicine is permitting greater access to all patients without having to get in their car and drive an hour," said Dr. Marcus Romanello, chief medical officer at Fort Hamilton Hospital, the news source noted.

Specifically, healthcare professionals at Fort Hamilton Hospital are leveraging video conferencing and other telecommunication tools to arrange digital, face-to-face meetings with patients. According to Romanello, patients are generally very satisfied with these encounters.

Speaking to the news source, Dr. Bryan Ludwig, a neurointerventional and stroke specialist with the Atrium Medical Center, emphasized the value that these technologies can provide to healthcare workers who treat stroke patients. He explained that when an individual experiences a stroke, it is imperative that he or she receive immediate treatment, as the more time that passes, the greater the chance of long-term brain damage or death.

However, the news source noted that fewer than one-fourth of U.S. patients live within 30 minutes of a stroke center, according to medical machine manufacturer REACH Health. Ludwig emphasized that by leveraging remote IT services, he is able to consult with stroke patients instantly via a laptop, regardless of his own physical location.

"I'd prefer to be at the bedside, but we're under a time crunch and families have been appreciative," said Ludwig, the Journal-News reported. "The camera is sensitive enough to see pupils dilate during the light exam."

The news source highlighted a number of other telemedicine trends gaining popularity among U.S. healthcare providers. For example, hospitals now frequently deploy digital programs that enable patients to easily access their own medical records from their computers or smartphones. The rise of electronic health records has further increased the value and utility of such solutions for both patients and their care providers.

From diagnosis to treatment
Further highlighting the trend of growing utilization of remote IT services for healthcare, Medscape reported that mental healthcare workers in Michigan are now using these tools to treat patients with depression and other mental illnesses.

The news source explained that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will likely cause a significant upswing in the number of insured individuals seeking mental health treatment in the near future. This will probably create major logistical challenges, as mental health professionals in the state are already overburdened.

This state of affairs is particularly problematic for Michigan because, as a recent study from the University of Michigan Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation revealed, the state's residents experience higher rates of depression than most Americans.

By leveraging telemedicine and related IT services, healthcare providers are able to improve the number of patients they see, the news source indicated. Additionally, psychiatrists can provide virtual assistance to physicians and pediatricians who are increasingly handling mental health cases.

Speaking to Medscape, Dr. Jennette Gaggino, a Kalamazoo County pediatrician who participates in a telemedicine program that connects healthcare professionals to psychiatrists, emphasized the value of these efforts.

"[Primary care physicians] need much more support as the demands and needs are overwhelming," Gaggino said, the news source reported. "The availability of just-in-time help is amazingly helpful."

As these benefits become more pronounced and healthcare providers face ever-increasing efficiency challenges, the popularity of remote technologies will likely grow in the coming years.

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