Telemedicine currently is not only a hot topic in Wyoming but also throughout America. While attending the Urgent Care Association of America conference in Houston last week, we were able to participate in an in-depth session about telemedicine and wanted to share some of that information with our colleagues and patients in Wyoming.

1. While telemedicine is not necessarily new, utilization is on the rise.

Did you know telemedicine has been around for over forty years? Utilization, however, has been historically slow. It has only been in recent years that the technology has advanced making telemedicine is more accessible for the patient. The rise is smart phones particularly has given most patients mobile access to a camera, video, and the internet…all necessary for the patient to complete their telemedicine visit. Additionally, more and more people are covered by a mobile network. I don’t know about you, but we can almost make it from Cheyenne to Laramie without dropping phone calls. Almost. This coverage is a drastic improvement from five years ago and will only continue to improve. Finally, more and more insurance companies are willing to reimburse for telemedicine encounters, making the visits more financially feasible for the patient and healthcare providers.

However, a recent study, REACH Health Survey “2017 US Telemedicine Industry Benchmarks), shows that although telemedicine is on the rise, utilization is still low for both patients and providers. Only 36% of hospitals have used telemedicine for over three years and 37% still have no telemedicine program. Additionally, only 14% of primary care providers and urgent care centers have had telemedicine for more than three years and 70% are still without a telemedicine program.

2. Telemedicine can be used for more than we think!

Conditions such as medication refills, coughs, colds, chronic disease care, mental health conditions, and even urinary tract infections (UTIs) can easily be evaluated and treated through telemedicine. One comment we frequently here is, “how can you tell I have a UTI if I don’t give a urine sample?” Studies have found that most uncomplicated cases can be treated based on symptoms thus the virtual interview conducted between the patient and the provider through a telemedicine visit is likely sufficient for diagnosis and treatment. The same applies for many other conditions. With the development of peripheral technology, listening to the heart, lungs, and looking into the mouth and ears is even possible through a telemedicine visit.

Stick to an in person visit at your local providers office for more complex conditions, if you need lab testing, x-rays, immunizations, or procedures.

3. Advantages of telemedicine

There are many advantages to telemedicine visits. Not only is a telemedicine visit convenient for the patient, but it is also efficient. Telemedicine visits cut down on patient and/or provider travel time, reduce clinic costs, reduce avoidable emergency room visits, and also help reduce 30 day readmission rates for inpatient hospitalizations.

For a large state like Wyoming, telemedicine increases access to healthcare. Patients in rural areas can access a provider virtually 24/7. Patients in rural areas can access specialists who are not physically located in there area. When used, this increased access can help save the patient money, unnecessary travel, improve patient outcomes AND patient satisfaction.

4. What’s next?

The more providers and patients that utilize telemedicine, the better it will be. By better, we mean more affordable, easier to use, and more readily accepted by providers, patients, and insurance companies.

Telemedicine is going to continue to be a service offered and is expected to continue to grow in all areas: platforms (software), peripherals (stethoscope/otoscopes that work with the computer), reach (networks), and utilization to name a few.

We look forward to this exciting step forward in our nation and in Wyoming. If you have questions regarding telemedicine in Wyoming, please feel free to reach out to us at info@stitchescare.com and we will either try to help or connect you to the right people!

Amy Surdam, FNP, has served in the WYARNG as a provider for the last 15 years and is an owner of Stitches Acute Care Center with her husband, Dan Surdam, MD. She enjoys spending time with her family and friends, fitness and creating a better tomorrow.

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