February 04, 2015
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Use of telemedicine in ID: what you need to know

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Telemedicine services have the potential to expand access to health care for patients and may be especially helpful in rural areas where subspecialists, such as infectious disease specialists, are not available.   

Advancements in technology as well as policy changes regarding telehealth have led to an increase in the significance of telemedicine in recent years.     

1. Telemedicine visits are either synchronous or asynchronous.

For synchronous visits, the patient is normally in some type of health care setting with a nurse or other health care professional while engaging with the physician during a real-time video and audio visit. Specialized equipment, such as electronic stethoscopes and otoscopes are used. With asynchronous visits, the patient is seen in person by a physician who inputs the patient’s clinical information into a computer and sends the information to a specialist to review within 1 to 2 days. The specialist then sends their consults back.     

  2. No difference in efficacy or safety of telemedicine care vs. normal care.

In a study published in 2011 that included 407 previously untreated patients, researchers compared treatment for HCV in a clinic setting vs. treatment received via a videoconferencing model. They found that there were no differences in efficacy or safety between the two treatment sites.

3. Telemedicine led to significant improvements in virologic suppression in patients with HIV.  

In a study that assessed the impact of a telemedicine program within the Illinois prison system for inmates with HIV, researchers found that 91.1% of inmates achieved complete virologic suppression within the first six visits of the telemedicine program vs. only 59.3% of inmates treated before the implementation of the program.   

4. One barrier to telemedicine is physician licensure.

Physicians are unable to practice medicine in states where they do not have a license. However, the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) is working to get this changed to where physicians can get a federal license to practice anywhere or get a specific telemedicine license.

5. The number of states with telemedicine parity laws have doubled.

According to a report by the American Telemedicine Association, 21 states and the District of Columbia have telemedicine parity laws for patients with private insurance and 47 states have some type of telemedicine coverage through their Medicaid programs.