Thanks to technology, telemedicine is an expanding field that provides immediate answers to thousands of people in their time of need. Beginning in 1996, the Arizona Telemedicine Program (ATP) opened with eight clinics, and now covers 160 clinics that provide medical and healthcare services to rural communities. The program, in its 20th year, continues to exceed expectations and show steady growth.

The director and co-founder of The Arizona Telemedicine Program, Ronald S. Weinstein, MD credits the success of the program to state legislators and lawmakers, agency officials, physicians, hospital, and insurance executives for their continuous support, time, and altruism. The Arizona Telemedicine Council (ATC) would not have been possible without their impact, which in turn means the ATP would not see expansion to communities that need it.

In an earlier interview, Weinstein, a former head of pathology at the University of Arizona, credits the ATC for their community input and members that keep the program functioning outside the walls of the University. He stresses that the ATC is an invaluable asset in reference to the ATP. He also gives accolades to the Council for maintaining an all-encompassing viewpoint of the current status of new healthcare procedures and keeping abreast of the latest in changes that occur in the health care field, as they come available. With members both in the public and private sectors of medicine, they keep the ATC informed of the latest developments regarding the government and community needs.

Former state Representative, Bob Burns, is co-founder of the Arizona Telemedicine Program is now also a member of the Arizona Corporation Commission and works alongside Dr. Weinstein. Burns, in attendance at the country’s first telemedicine program in Augusta, Georgia, which is where he initially thought about the idea of starting a similar program at the University of Arizona.

Upon his return to UA, Burns met with James Dalen, MD, the dean of the UA College of Medicine. Dalen was in agreement that a similar program could be put in place at the UA, with Dr. Weinstein serving as director of the telemedicine program.

At the time, they did not know what a positive impact the program would have in the communities and for the rural communities in the area. Burns service record with the program is impressive; he has been in attendance at 69 out of 71 quarterly meetings of the council to date. According to Weinstein, “he has an amazing record of civic leadership.” The program would not be the success it is today however without the collaborative effort put forth by all who actively support, fund, and volunteer their talents and services to the project.

Healthcare is an essential part of any community. Without access to adequate healthcare, society is at a disadvantage. Telemedicine not only makes access easier, but it also provides so much more within the community as a whole. The advances in medicine happen at a rapid pace, and without those who stay up to date on the latest in technology and medical procedures and medications, the Arizona Telemedicine Program would not be able to serve the rural areas.

Funding for the ATC and ATP is also a crucial part in the effort to provide healthcare to individuals that otherwise would have no means to see a doctor or receive valuable medical advice and assistance when they need it.

In addition, as a direct result of the Councils input, several other offshoots from the program’s original concept have been possible. One of these is the continuing education component to the ATP. This component is responsible for keeping rural medical professionals aware of the newest developments in medicine and teaching them how to best utilize them in their practices, without them having to drive to Tucson or Phoenix.

With the newly announced expansion to 160 rural communities, it only proves that the University of Arizona’s telemedicine program is not only providing assistance to those seeking healthcare, but also the medical professionals that provide care in areas outside major cities. With the brainchild of Burns, and Weinstein’s continued commitment to quality healthcare, the Arizona Telemedicine Program will see continuous growth and will be an asset not only to the state of Arizona, but also as a platform for other states to become active in their communities. Telemedicine rides the wave of new technology each and every day. The Arizona Telemedicine Council and Arizona Telemedicine Program will serve as models for others to achieve the same level of commitment and knowledge.

When a possible stroke patient arrives at Lee Memorial Hospitals acute care centers, time is the most critical component of the live-saving measures the staff will undertake. Stroke is responsible for one out of every nineteen deaths in America. The consequences related to time management for a possible stroke victim could not be more important. Fortunately, today’s physicians, radiology technicians, nurses and hospital staff have the marvel of telemedicine to help speed their diagnoses and implement life-saving procedures faster than ever before.

Every minute is critical when a patient arrives presenting stroke symptoms. They can now undergo a CT scan which provides vital information about their condition, while the emergency room physician contacts the Neurologist on call. Telemedicine makes it possible for the Neurologist to be briefed by the physician about the patient’s condition while never needing to leave his or her office or home. Through teleconferencing, the neurologist is now capable of defining the problem, ascertaining accurate information with real-time questions and answers, and even leading the team virtually.

Through a tele-health cart strategically placed in the room, the neurologist can gain vital information. The technology provides a view of the room and two-way conversation that allows him or her to accurately direct the team for whatever unique situations may present in any specific case. This eliminates the time that is wasted when a neurologist is called, then drives to the hospital from a remote place. That time often has serious consequences for the patient.

This new technology is saving lives. Eliminating unnecessary wasted time during the critical moments when a stroke patient arrives at the emergency department and providing accurate information at light speed wherever the on-call neurologist may be at any given time provides Lee Memorial Hospitals patients with the timely care they deserve. The tele-health cart brings all these health-care specialists, nurses and technicians together in just moments after a patient arrives, providing the best opportunity ever for a full recovery.

The results are in. 75% of patients who had not used telemedicine services previously stated that they would be interested in giving it a shot. Software Advice survey determined this in a recent study. This could have major ramifications for the healthcare industry.

The Survey

The survey interviewed 519 patients over two days. 138 of the participants had utilized telemedicine and 381 hadn’t used telemedicine.

39% of the participants said that they were either “extremely interested” or “very interested” in using telemedicine. Of the participants who hadn’t used these services, 75% were willing to try it.

Of the participants who tried telemedicine services, 71% said that they would “strongly prefer” or “somewhat prefer” telemedicine services to treat minor illnesses.

According to the participants of the study, telemedicine has several benefits. These benefits include not needing to travel to a doctor’s office and the fact that the quality of the care is equal to or better than going to a doctor’s office.

While the feedback given was mostly positive, there was some criticism. Only 6% of participants claimed that they didn’t see any benefits to telemedicine.

Additionally, there were a few concerns that some participants had about using telemedicine services as well. Here are some of those concerns:

  • Lack of personal interacction
  • Issues with using the technology
  • Concerns about security breaches.

More than 50% of participants were not sure whether or not telemedicine services were covered by their insurance.

What Does This Mean?

So what do these results indicate? They indicate that there is support for the use of telemedicine technology. Participants beliieve that telemedicine is a great way to treat minor health issues.. Most participants were willing to give it a try.

Telemedicine has already shown to be effective in cutting costs and treating patients. The Texas Department of Corrections have used telemedicine services to treat their inmates. It has proven greatly effective in cutting their costs and lowering the amount of AIDS-related deaths. This is just one instance of how telehealth services can provide benefits to patients.

In the United States, prison healthcare has become increasingly expensive. In 2011 alone, $7.7 billion dollars out of the $38.6 total that was spent on U.S. prisoners was dedicated to healthcare. In Texas, over $581 million was spent on inmate health care. This is in part because the amount of inmates over 55 years old has increased over the last few years.

The Texas Department of Corrections has been searching for a way to cut some of these costs, and with the advent of telemedicine, they think they’ve found it. Telemedicine is a high-tech medical consultation that has helped the Texas Penal System cut health care costs. It helps medical experts, often located over 100 miles away, connect with prisoners.

Telemedicine allows the medical expert to see and speak with an inmate via a remotely streaming webcam. They can see each other through a television screen, but they aren’t able to touch. The doctor will have access to electronic medical records and can ask the inmate questions regarding their health – much like an average medical visit.

The Texas Department of Correctional Justice subcontracts their prison healthcare to Texas Tech University and the University of Texas Medical Branch. The cost-saving technology, telemedicine, as well as their partnership has reduced medical costs dramatically. Between 1994 and 2008, telemedicine has saved Texas $780 million dollars.

Since telemedicine was implemented, AIDs related deaths were reduced by 84%, the blood sugar levels of diabetic prisoners decreased by 18% and inmate’s blood pressure control improved. The combination of telemedicine, electronic medical records, adherence to disease management guidelines and preferred drug lists has proven its ability to cut spending costs and improve access to healthcare.

It isn’t without its set of critics though. Some believe it’s a dangerous way to save money within a system that has raised concerns for its poor medical care. The Texas Civil Rights Project has filed many lawsuits against Texas’ Department of Corrections. They cite medical negligence and the project’s legal director expresses concern for the possibility of shortchanging a vulnerable population.

As we roll into 2015, not only are individuals contending with the rising costs of healthcare, but large retailers are as well. In an effort to guide consumers towards healthier lifestyles and contain healthcare costs, retail giants Target and Walmart are looking to grow telemedicine mobile technology.

These retailers are looking to provide both their consumers and employees with a deeper level of services, which includes a basic level of chronic disease management. According to Ben Wanaker, the Walmart Care Clinic business leader, while the Care Clinic is consumer-focused retail clinic, it is also the employees’ on-site clinic. All Walmart employees have healthcare needs and have high-deductible healthcare plans. Like everyone else, Walmart is also struggling with the rising costs of healthcare.

Both Target and Walmart are currently exploring the technological tools at their disposal, such as telemedicine, to enhance their efforts toward contending with high healthcare costs. Although Wanamaker did say that they were working on a strategy for digital telehealth, he did not provide further details.

It is expected that retail health clinics will continue to evolve, with the help of telemedicine, in order to provide more affordable healthcare options for employees and consumers everywhere. For some, such as Target, this evolution is coming by way of creating new partnerships with affordable healthcare options.

Target has recently partnered with Kaiser Permanente, as well as a partnership with Mscrips, to provide more affordable telemedicine, prescription and healthcare options. As Target moves into the digital healthcare age, their goals include building a platform where telemedicine can be virtually interconnected with other aspects of healthcare to create more affordable healthcare options for consumers and employees.

Unfortunately, despite the enormous potential of telemedicine and tele-healthcare, there are still some privacy issues to be worked out. It is apparent that the retail sector is seeing and working toward the opportunity that new digital healthcare options are offering, and it is definitely a starting point for curbing the rising costs of healthcare.

With Telemedicine, Emergency Responders Skip Hospital Visit

A new pilot program, launched by the Allegheny Health Network, technology assists patients in a relatively new form of technology called telemedicine. With telemedicine and the use of Apple iPads, patients needing urgent care will connect with doctors without going to the emergency room, with the assistance of emergency medical workers.

Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh understands that not every patient calling 911 is dealing with a life and death emergency. AHN’s pilot program was designed to assist in situations where doctors equipped with iPads could use telemedicine to determine if patients should come to the ER for care.
MobiHealthNews reports that this program allows emergency room doctors to speak with patients before making a costly trip to the hospital. With this advance, telemedicine will help individuals by saving thousands of dollars while increasing the efficiency of hospitals and medical staff due to the reduced number of admissions.

The pilot program will allow patients in acute pain or requiring specialized care to be directed to the appropriate trauma unit in a minimal amount of time, thanks to telemedicine. Less severe cases could be handled quickly, allowing doctors and patients to make better use of their time.

A good example of this would be a diabetic person that calls the ER for assistance due to symptoms caused by low blood sugar. Rather than a trip to the ER in an ambulance, the doctor and emergency responders can determine together the appropriate course of medical action. In the case of diabetes, a glucose solution and fruit juice might be all the patient needs to feel better right away.

Robert J. McCaughan, Vice President of Pre-hospital Care Services at the Allegheny Health Network is excited about the program. He predicts that telemedicine will continue to grow and will someday become a major component in the healthcare industry, and finds the idea of pre-hospital care a great first step toward many future advances.

Richard Gibbons, the Director of the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services at the Pennsylvania Department of Health, concurs with McCaughan that telemedicine offers innumerable benefits to the field of healthcare, and is impressed with the program’s potential regarding direct in-home access to a physician.

Gibbons is not alone as more and more facilities and health departments are turning to telemedicine to provide the best and most effective care. Through telemedicine, the field of health care, and even more particularly, emergency treatment, great progress is being observed in patient care standards.

What started as the brain child of TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw and his son Jay in 2012, is now beginning to revolutionize telemedicine and paving the way for even more telemedicine apps. Doctor on Demand utilizes the growing use of the portable technology found in tablets and smartphones to provide millions of users with instant access to a wide array of medical specialists.

Instead of having to wait 30 days or more for a traditional doctor’s appointment in-person, users can have instant access to DOD’s network of 1,400 physicians and 300 mental health professionals. For a flat fee, DOD’s network of health care professionals will provide web consultations and 25-minute sessions with professional psychologists.

Doctors on Demand was quietly launched in 2013 and telemedicine took its first steps to becoming the medicine of the future. While developers have discreetly been working out the kinks in the telemedicine app for the last year, DOD has continued to expand in 2014 with the addition of mental health psychologists.

While getting in to see the doctor can take up to a month in many cases, with DOD, users have access to a health care professional within 2 minutes. Which is making an incredible difference in the way people and professionals everywhere look at practicing medicine and mental health.

DOD simplifies the process of going to see the doctor by having you fill out the required medical history, pay the requested fee and detail your symptoms or problems. Investors such as Google, Shasta Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz see this telemedicine app as being the next step in reducing the massive amount of expensive emergency room visits and handling health problems that many people would put off or neglect all-together, which could lead to serious health complications.

Doctors and patients alike are loving the capabilities of this relatively new telemedicine app to reduce the stress of handling insurance and getting in to see the doctor, let alone its ability for doctors to diagnose patients through a virtual platform.

Like many college graduates, Phyllis Webster finished her degree in Cultural and Biological Anthropology at the University of Arizona, wondering what she should do next with her life. The answer came when, in 1996, she joined the Arizona Telemedicine Program, even though, at that time, she knew nothing about telemedicine or technology. It was the medical field and the prospect of helping people that held her interest.

Within six months of service at ATP, she became a telemedicine case coordinator underneath the direction of ATP Medical Director, Doctor Ana Maria Lopez, and to date, has facilitated more than 8000 multispecialty teleconsultations for eight different charter sites across Arizona. After eighteen years of service across fifty-one subspecialty areas, she has worked with 165 consultants, many of which were employed by the University of Arizona College of Medicine.

During this time in her life, Webster remembers two distinct cases that are definitive of how varied and wide-ranging these applications can be, benefiting more patients on a larger scale. In the first case, there was an urgent call from a referring neonatologist who needed an echocardiology examination for a small child in duress. She was able to quickly secure an evaluation with a pediatric cardiologist who noticed the baby’s complex cardiac abnormalities and set up a transfer. This technology allowed everyone to work together in real time, following the baby’s condition and progress from the first meeting to the admission and treatment at the University of Arizona Medical Center.

In the second case, Webster remembered the story of a rural woman who suffered from a severe skin condition that prevented her from being seen in public or having a normal life. Using high resolution digital imaging technology and video teledermatology consultations and treatments, the patient’s condition dramatically improved within three or four months. Telemedicine technology had changed and enriched this woman’s quality of life!

Webster goes on to say that helping patients has been the best part of telemedicine, although it is easy to wrapped up in the technology because it is such an amazing tool, allowing medical personnel to better communicate and care for their patients. When she first began her career in 1996, very few knew about telemedicine or video conferencing. Eight thousand cases later, she is still amazed at the results seen every day and feels very fortunate to be a part of such an experience.

Telemedicine is having an amazing impact on the pricing of employee healthcare. Recently, several companies have started to add telemedicine to their benefits packages. Telemedicine utilizes technology to help diagnose people and care for them, including video conferencing and phone calls. This cuts costs and thus makes health care a lot cheaper.

One of the companies that has added telemedicine to their benefits package is Qualcomm. Qualcomm first added telemedicine two years ago. More than 60% of Qualcomm’s employees have use telemedicine services instead of visiting the doctor. Qualcomm has claimed that this has lead to lower costs.

Qualcomm is not the only company that has used telemedicine. Rent-a-Center started using telemedicine 24 months ago. They started allowing employees to speak with medical professionals on the phone and over the Internet. The company claims that they have saved more than a million dollars over a two year period by doing this. Penske followed a similar model about a year ago. They claim that they have saved more than $300,000.

Some companies have started using telemedicine to ensure that their employees are properly diagnosed. One example of this is the airplane company Boeing. The company recently started encouraging its employees to get a second opinion through a telemedicine service called Best Doctors. The service has been extremely impactful for the employees. In the year 2011, 30% of the employees that used Best Doctors had their diagnosis changed and more than half saw a change in treatment. So not only has this service saved Boeing money, but it also has had an impact on the health of the employees.

Telemedicine is emerging as a viable alternative to traditional health care. It is considerably cheaper and it is more accessible for patients. There are telemedicine tools that are available 24/7. Because telemedicine is such a great alternative to traditional medicine it is a growing industry. Telemedicine to save the U.S. economy almost $6 billion a year. Time will tell if the telemedicine industry continues to grow as time goes on.

Encouraged by the progress made in 2014 concerning its teleheath program, the Department of Veterans Affairs intends to continue improving on this program by reaching even more clients and significantly enhancing its relationship with health care providers.

In October, 2014, the VA reported that its national telehealth programs had succeeded in helping nearly 700,000 veterans during the fiscal year. According to Veteran’s Administration Secretary Robert McDonald: “We consistently explore how we can more effectively and efficiently deliver health care services to our veterans and improve their lives. Telehealth is one of those areas for which we have identified promising, long-term growth.”

Telehealth programs now serve 12 percent of all veterans enrolled in the Veteran’s Administration’s health care program. Of that 12 percent, veterans made over two million teleheath visits, with almost 60 percent of teleheath veterans residing in rural areas where they had limited access to veteran health care services.

As more veterans age, develop conditions related to aging and actively seek health care, teleheath is quickly becoming the most attractive and practical option available, especially to veterans who experience difficulty getting to a VA medical center. In 2015, VA plans to expand its telehealth offerings by utilizing a $16 billion reform bill established in August, 2014. By authorizing the VA department to begin accelerating deployment of mobile health care clinics via telemedicine, this bill means that many veterans will no longer need to travel long distances to receive necessary medical care. In addition, telemedicine reduces wait times so that veterans can receive medical attention expeditiously when it is needed.

On its website, the VA has published an outline of its forthcoming efforts to increase the scope of its telemedicine programs. Specialized services that will be offered include telecardiology, telementalhealth, telesurgery and telerehabilitation. In an interview with iHealthBeat, VA Deputy Chief Telehealth Consultant Ellen Edmonson stated that ” the VA is diligently striving to improve its commitment to veterans who need better access to telehealth”.

VA telehealth programs have led to a 34 percent drop in readmissions and a 42 percent reduciton in bed days in 2014 (fiscal year). The VA further reports that a recent survey of 10,000 veterans found that 94 percent were completely satisfied with clinical video telehealth. Store-and-forward teledermatology garnered a 92 percent satisfaction rating from veterans and teleretinology received a 94 percent rating.

For more information about the VA’s teleheath program, visit their webpage.