Expert: Telemedicine doesn't have to be expensive

Physicians should get more involved in telemedicine, enterprise software expert and former technology company executive Shahid Shah said  recently on his Health IT Guy blog. And they don't necessarily need expensive equipment to do so.

For example, Shah noted, physicians can use widely available web meeting and online video tools to connect with patients in remote areas. Among these applications are WebEx, GoToMeeting, Adobe Connect, and Skype. (He doesn't mention this, but a patient and a doctor who have an iPhone 4 or an iPad 2 can use their FaceTime video chat feature.) These tools, he said, would cost doctors only $30 to $50 per month and would be free to patients who have high-speed Internet access.

If a patient cannot use these programs at home, Shah suggested, they could go to "satellite offices with high-quality telepresence." This, he said, would allow patients to get quicker, more convenient care than if they had to travel to a city.

Shah warned that these kinds of communications might not be HIPAA compliant. But he added that they can be made compliant, although he didn't offer details.

Shah also advocated for the use of home telemonitoring equipment, especially with elderly patients who have chronic conditions. But he pointed out that connecting medical devices for remote monitoring is not simple or inexpensive. For those who have the funds, he suggested using Qualcomm's 2net platform, which employs the 3G cellular network.

Another convenience for patients in remote areas, Shah said, would be to provide them with access to mobile imaging centers and lab specimen kiosks. Technicians use these platforms to take X-rays and collect specimens. Then they send the images electronically and mail the specimens to metropolitan facilities where they can be analyzed.

What Shah failed to mention is that providers are reimbursed only for limited kinds of telemedicine. But that may be changing. According to an InformationWeek Healthcare article, panelists at a telemedicine session at the recent Consumer Electronics Show expressed optimism that Medicare would expand reimbursement for telemedicine and that e-health would become a central feature of the healthcare system.

To learn more:
- read the Health IT Guy blog post
- see the InformationWeek Healthcare article 

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