Why telemedicine must become 'integral' to mainstream care efforts

Telemedicine must move to the forefront of medical efforts in the U.S. for domestic care efficiency and quality improvements to be considered anything better than "marginal," according to an editorial published this month in the journal Telemedicine and e-Health.

Rashid L. Bashshur (pictured), director of telemedicine at the University of Michigan Health System and the commentary's author, says that now is the time to establish telemedicine as "integral" to care efforts, particularly in conjunction with other information technologies like electronic and personal health records.

"We are at the threshold of a new environment in which telemedicine, broadly defined, must be an essential part of mainstream healthcare if patients are to receive the appropriate care, at the appropriate site, by the appropriate provider while avoiding duplication and waste," Bashshur says.

But that hasn't happened. "[T]o date, telemedicine has not been explicitly linked to Meaningful Use development incentives, even at the third and last stage of MU implementation, albeit electronic communication with patients is included in Stage 2 and more likely in Stage 3," he says.

Despite Bashshur's concerns, American Telemedicine Association President-Elect Ed Brown, in a recent interview with SearchHealthIT, expresses optimism about the direction of telehealth.

"I think we're at a very exciting place for telehealth," Brown says. "The field has been around for about 50 years now, and it's moving along slowly, but you can see in the last number of years it's accelerated dramatically."

In January, ATA CEO Jonathan Linkous called the government a "lagging partner" for the telehealth industry, saying that government policies have proven to be the biggest barriers to telehealth deployment for the better part of two decades.

To learn more:
- here's the Telemedicine and e-Health editorial (.pdf)
- read Ed Brown's interview with SearchHealthIT