Newswise – If you haven’t
already experienced telemedicine, you may soon have the
telemedicine option. Technology is helping people
connect with their physicians in new ways and from a
distance, and interest is growing in updating state and
federal policies to help make telemedicine available to
Mayo Clinic this week responded to a
request from the House Energy and Commerce Committee for
recommendations on how lawmakers can help this new
health care option progress. Steve Ommen, M.D., medical
director of Mayo Clinic Connected Care, explains
telemedicine and outlines state and national moves that
would help more patients take advantage of it:
What is telemedicine? Telemedicine
most commonly refers to communication with or among a
patient’s health care team via video connection, secure
text messaging or another platform rather than in
person. It can be used to schedule appointments, answer
questions, handle routine checkups, allow physicians in
different locations to consult about a patient’s case,
collect vital signs or even to help examine and diagnose
patients. To protect patient privacy, secure
communication methods are used.
Mayo Clinic views development of
telemedicine as an important next step to improve health
care access, quality and efficiency across the country.
“I think of telemedicine as using
technology to meet the needs of patients where they are
rather than making them come to where we are,” says Dr.
Ommen, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. “There are a lot of
things we do in medicine that do not require
face-to-face interactions, and we can use technology to
meet those needs: prescription refills, or simply
exchanging information about how it’s gone since your
last visit, for example. A lot of that information can
be exchanged electronically in a way that makes it much
more convenient for the patient and for the doctor.”
Telemedicine initially developed as a
way to provide complex specialty care to rural patients
whose local hospitals didn’t have specialists available.
For example, Mayo Clinic uses telestroke robots to help
swiftly diagnose stroke patients whose hospitals do not
have neurologists on hand around the clock as Mayo does.
A robot at the patient’s hospital allows Mayo
neurologists to perform live, real-time audiovisual
consultations with the patient and emergency medicine
physicians at his or her hospital; speedy delivery of
clot-busting drugs is crucial to halt and reverse stroke
Now, telemedicine can help patients
and health care organizations wherever they are: Other
telemedicine options offered by Mayo include robots on
the sidelines at football games to help diagnose
concussions; a pilot program offering private workplace
kiosks where people can be treated for minor health
problems without leaving work; secure messaging,
electronic and video consults; eDelivery rooms that use
video and tablets to connect Mayo Clinic Health System
delivery rooms to neonatologists at Mayo Clinic; and
remote intensive care unit monitoring to support ICU
teams at smaller hospitals.
Why are policy changes needed?
Telemedicine technology is developing rapidly, but there
are policy barriers holding back its use, Dr. Ommen
“The policies really haven’t kept up,
but there is certainly interest at both the state and
national level in updating them,” Dr. Ommen says.
In the letter to the House Energy and
Commerce Committee, Mayo Clinic proposals include:
“Personal mobility can be an issue.
For example, for someone with orthopedic problems, it’s
not driving down the highway that’s a problem; it’s
getting out to the car that’s even more of a hassle,”
Dr. Ommen says. Telemedicine can also help people avoid
having to take time off work or drive across a large
metropolitan area to go to a doctor’s office, he says.
“Telemedicine is for everyone.
Everyone can benefit from getting more rapid access and
more convenient access to their health care providers,”
Dr. Ommen says. “Limiting it to people who are in rural
or medically underserved areas limits the potential of
medical licensing compacts, and possibly
creating national physician licensing
like Veterans Administration physicians
have, to make it easier to license
physicians who practice in multiple
states. Currently, a physician providing
telemedicine services must be licensed
in the state where the patient lives, a
costly and and time-consuming process.
“We’re seeing state medical societies
as well as the American Medical Association endorsing
this idea of the state compacts to improve that
situation,” Dr. Ommen says.
Mayo’s comments to House Energy and
Commerce follow a Senate Aging Committee roundtable
event last September on telemedicine, including its
possibilities and the challenges facing its growth.
“There was almost unanimity in the
room that the current legislative barriers were real
barriers that needed to change,” says Dr. Ommen, who
spoke at the Senate event . “My hope is that the
discussion will grow, and we could start seeing
legislation as early as this Congress.”
Besides convenience, what are some of
the other benefits of telemedicine? Mayo research has
found that in addition to providing convenient,
high-quality care, telemedicine can save money.
For example, Mayo studies on
telestroke found that, compared with hospitals without a
telestroke network, telestroke systems resulted in the
use of appropriate advanced therapies that in turn
allowed more patients to return home rather than
requiring nursing home care.
“I see telemedicine as really
extending the relationship a person already has with
their providers,” Dr. Ommen says. “It provides new
options for reaching them more urgently and more
conveniently. It’s a choice that patients and providers
can make to be in better contact with one another.”
To request an interview with Dr. Ommen,
please contact Sharon Theimer in Mayo Clinic Public
Affairs at 507-284-5005 or newsbureau [at] mayo [dot]
About Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization committed to
medical research and education, and providing expert,
whole-person care to everyone who needs healing. For
more information, visit
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