Although telemedicine is not a new concept, lots of how-to questions and some deficiencies in payment have hindered its uptake by family physicians.
Physicians who've been sidestepping this fast-growing side of medicine -- which the AAFP defines as the practice of medicine using technology to deliver health care at a distant site via a telecommunications infrastructure -- will benefit from a free AAFP webinar titled "The Business of Telemedicine," presented live on March 30 from noon to 1 p.m. CDT.
Registration is now open(register.gotowebinar.com) for this webinar. As always, physicians unable to participate in the live event can access the archived version at a later date.
Presenter Janine Gracy, who holds a Master of Science in education, is an expert in this field. She serves as project director for the Heartland Telehealth Resource Center.(heartlandtrc.org)
Gracy told AAFP News that she has been providing technical assistance to organizations looking to implement telehealth for the past four years and was immersed in health care settings -- medical clinics and nonprofit health care organizations -- for 30 years prior to that.
"I am absolutely an ambassador for access to health care," she said, adding that telehealth -- the umbrella term under which telemedicine falls -- is an excellent way to improve patient access.
Gracy will use her time with family physicians to, among other things,
- review the pros and cons of incorporating telehealth into a family medicine practice,
- analyze the business aspect of telehealth,
- pinpoint the components necessary for an organizational assessment of telehealth readiness,
- identify existing technologies and capabilities in the telehealth domain, and
- explain how HIPAA applies to telehealth.
One easy way to assist patients via telehealth is to provide a room outfitted with the right telehealth equipment "so that your patients can see a specialist from your practice instead of having to drive five hours," said Gracy.
"You'll still be providing ancillary services like labs and X-rays if that's part of your practice," and the patient's consultation with the subspecialist likely will result in a better health outcome, she added.
Physicians know all too well that referring a patient to a subspecialist doesn't ensure that the visit will take place. What if the patient doesn't have transportation or can't take the time off work?
In those kinds of situations, it's great when physicians can give their patients access to telehealth services, said Gracy.
It's also important to keep in mind that although America's rural and frontier communities are hotbeds for telehealth, underserved patients in urban and metro areas can benefit from telehealth, too.
People need to understand that telehealth isn't only about accessing medical care from a long distance, Gracy noted. "Sometimes a patient living in a metro area still can't get to a doctor's office," she said.
In the end, said Gracy, everyone deserves excellent health care regardless of their ZIP code.
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AAFP to FCC: Improve Rural Telehealth to Support Primary Care
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AAFP policy on Telehealth and Telemedicine