How telemedicine aids Mercy Health's efforts to improve care

Telemedicine is a three-legged stool that includes not only technology, but also improving access to healthcare and managing reimbursement issues, Mercy Health's chief medical information officer Stephen Beck, M.D., writes at HIT Consultant.

While the young, wealthy and busy are considered the most likely to use telehealth, Mercy's experience is that those who are retired or nearing retirement are just as interested in new technology, starting with electronic patient portals, Beck writes.

If a patient wants to see her physician from work or home, without having to deal with traffic, skip lunch or arrange child care, "we should be able to use telehealth to make that happen," he adds.

He foresees telehealth evolving at Mercy as a "stepwise workflow implementation," from patient messaging via phone to asynchronous care through e-visits and tele-consults--and eventually leading to synchronous care with video visits and point-to-point video consults. 

In its asynchronous e-visits today, Mercy uses a series of questionnaires that help patients determine whether a virtual or in-person visit is most appropriate. Self-triage programs however, rely on patient-entered information only. Beck hopes to soon see a sophisticated algorithm that can look at multiple risk factors using data in a patient record to help guide care.

Efforts like Mercy's are aiding telemedicine's rise in the industry, and state governments are working to help it expand. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a bill making it the 24th state to ensure reimbursement for some telemedicine services. Last week, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell also signed a bill requiring insurance companies to reimburse for telemedicine.

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