Is Telemedicine Healthy?
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Is telemedicine a viable option for the delivery of medical services? It has been promoted as a way of not only providing health care services over a distance but also as a means of increasing access to certain specialties from more sophisticated sources at a lower price point.
Sharon Daley, an R.N. who is the director of island health services for the Maine Sea Coast Mission, provides medical services by traveling to islands off the coast of Maine via a 75 foot boat called the Sunbeam. A doctor won't typically come out to the remote islands like Frenchboro, Matinicus, Isle au Haut, Swan's Island and Islesford, and if the patient wanted to travel to the mainland himself the trip would take four and half hours. By plane, the trip costs $200 round trip and the person would have to stay overnight.
All that travel can be unwieldy: instead, many of Daley's patients rely on the telemedicine services she provides.
"Because I am working with a provider on the mainland - and there are specific providers on each island - for Isle au Haut, because the physician knows the people on the island, he gives me the order to administer flu shots or I can do lab draws," she said.
"A nurse cannot do these things unilaterally so approval of a physician is necessary," Daley added. "Because of telemedicine I can do vitamin shots, flu shots and other services that these residents would not be able to access."
She just returned from speaking at a conference in Montana where telemedicine is practiced quite a bit because of the long distances between residences and doctors' offices. There is a hospital in Billings, she said, that provides tertiary care for residents in remote areas. Because these people are in remote areas there is better follow up as well.
"It is the best of both worlds," Daley said. " I know the people on the islands, so it is personal. But I also have the latest technology available."
But is telemedicine efficacious both economically and medically? It seems that no one is certain. Opinions are mixed.
A 2011 survey by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the U.S Deptartment of Health and Human Services, determined that parents were satisfied with telemedicine care for their child's obesity. They compared office with telemedicine consultations and found no difference in satisfaction - except for slightly lower ratings for telemedicine when it came to explaining things.
A survey by a southern California hospital system produced similar results. Patients there particularly liked the idea of not traveling to see the doctor. Perhaps the area's notorious traffic jams played a factor in that reasoning.