Is telemedicine the future of medicine?

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I first used telemedicine (the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients by means of telecommunications technology) in the mid-90s when I was working as an on-call CT technician in the UK. We used a modem to transfer head trauma scans to the local neurology center for assessment so that the surgeon could evaluate whether it was necessary to transfer the patient to their unit or if they could be treated locally.

The image quality was terrible, and the process was slow, but it was the beginning of using remote diagnostics and expertise to create better outcomes for patients.

Telemedicine has improved dramatically since then and is growing because it drives greater access for patients, improves quality and potentially reduces cost. The key focus areas are:

  • Image transfer (but far more advanced that my experience mentioned above).
  • eConsult, with both primary care and specialist physicians.
  • Providing medical access to remote and rural areas.
  • Home monitoring.

Analytics will play a major role in the success of telemedicine, especially in terms of eConsult, providing care to remote communities and home health monitoring. Our aging population means more and more patients are living with chronic disease and their care needs to be proactively managed. But resources are often not available to deliver care. In addition, few people include long-term care in their retirement plans and more elderly patients are electing to stay in their own home, which strengthens the case for telemedicine and home monitoring.

Connected devices such as blood pressure and heart monitors, dialysis machines and fall monitors are key to home health, and the the data from these monitors needs continual interpretation and analysis to prevent false alarms and keep life as normal life as possible for patients. With the right data, we can predict patient needs and adverse events to ensure timely intervention and continuity of care.

Today's tech-savvy patients are collecting large volumes of data about their personal health. In the future, telemedicine will use this data to predict health issues, as well as provide coaching and advice to promote well being. Automating simple care interactions over a remote connection will allow doctors to spend more time on complex patient needs, focus on providing high-quality health care, and will reduce physician burnout.

In spite of all these advantages, the concept is not universally welcomed. In our fee-for-service system,  telemedicine has raised concerns from physicians that fee structures are not keeping pace and that they may lose income if they provide these services. The other concern raised is that poorly structured telemedicine services will increase demand and actually reduce access if they're abused by patients looking for a quick fix or simple reassurance.

As SAS, we understand telemedicine and the key role analytics can play in bringing data, knowledge and insight to the consulting physician no matter where they are. To learn more, and hear use cases from companies who have used advanced analytics to improve quality, patient satisfaction and efficiency, tune in to our webinar on December 4 at 10 a.m. ET: Identifying the Next Best Action in Health Care.

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About Author

Greg Horne

Global Principal, Health Care

Greg is the SAS Global Principal for Health and is based out of Toronto, Canada - he joined SAS in August 2012. In this role, Greg has the opportunity to work with healthcare strategy in a way that focuses on outcomes as well as the cost, quality and other challenges that any modern health system faces. He is considered a thought leader in the future of health care and the introduction of patient focused technology.

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