We all know that technology has changed our lives, and, in many ways it has improved them. There is no more exciting place for new technology than in the world of health care – especially in the world of telemedicine. Telemedicine is simply the delivery of health care services from a provider to a patient using electronic communication.
Medical providers are adopting electronic data collection and companies are producing electronic medical equipment that are combining to produce a sophisticated electronic platform for medical care. Along with that, consumers have widespread access to high-speed Internet, allowing them to interact with physicians and laboratories almost anywhere. Also, doctors and hospitals can collaborate on high levels of care from any location.
What does that mean for all of us?
For many people, this can mean the difference between life and death. A Wall Street Journal article highlighted a small hospital in rural Missouri that links with a TeleICU where critical care doctors can monitor patients by camera and direct the doctors onsite to provide specialized care. The results have been a 35% decrease in patients’ average hospital stay and a 30% decrease in deaths. This is truly affecting life or death outcomes for patients.
For routine and non-emergency care, many employers and insurance companies are providing telemedicine access to employees. While this may save money for them, it is a great way for individuals to access a doctor without waiting for an appointment or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room.
These plans are considered group health plans, and, as such, must comply with a variety of federal regulations. Regulators are starting catch up to the new technology, but they have already provided some good news for employees. For telemedicine plans provided as part of an employer’s health insurance package, an employee entitled to COBRA can not only retain traditional health care benefits but also retain access to the telemedicine coverage.