The U.S. Healthcare Crisis: Telemedicine to the Rescue — Part III

Posted on 5 Mar, 2018 |comments_icon 0|By Elizabeth

Providers Conquering Distance and Time

Jonathan Linkous, chief executive officer of the American Telemedicine Association, makes a point: “Patients already schedule appointments online, review their lab tests, email their doctors.”

It’s the digital age, after all. We seemingly enter this world with a smart phone in hand and proceed to shop, bank, trade stocks, arrange for package delivery, and perform a share of our employment responsibilities from a pocket-size device that has revolutionized the world as we knew it. People are accustomed to quick info and fast results—with minimal effort.

On the one hand, telemedicine is just another convenience. It’s also means for providers to gain a competitive edge, as well as an avenue for greater revenue opportunities. San Diego-based Kaiser Permanente dermatologists, for example, review patients’ information and images sent to them by referring physicians over a secure server. This enables the dermatologists to treat 50% more patients than they could manage with in-office visits.

On the other hand, telemedicine has the power to alleviate shortfalls in U.S. healthcare. Consider Spectrum Health. This network of hospitals and ambulatory centers located in Michigan has taken on flu season with a direct-to-consumer telehealth program that enables them to treat over 100 patients daily. Not only is the program improving care access by sparing patients the cost of a trip to the ER, but it’s also sparing the ER an influx of non-emergency patients who happen to be contagious.

“This means patients who do visit the ER are being seen and treated more quickly and efficiently, and ER staff aren’t pushed to exhaustion trying to handle the traffic,” says Joseph Brennan, senior director of Spectrum Health’s MedNow.

The overall impact of programs like Spectrum Health’s is broader than each point of care. The effect ripples through the community to enhance patient flow in the private practice and in the area hospitals. It’s as if telehealth services from various organizations function in a deliberate teaming to extend physician reach and improve healthcare access.

Are you connected? Just think of the impact your medical practice could have.

Connecting Patients & Primary Physicians

Telemedicine was born in the primary physician’s office. It started, essentially, with the common cold. The idea was, Rather than pull people away from home or work or school only to sit in a waiting room to be seen, let’s treat, or triage, the earache, the UTI… the host of minor conditions remotely.

Connecting patients with primary physicians was the original intent. Telemedicine is for you.

But, you say, we’re a small practice, and this is a big enterprise.

Telehealth doesn’t require a Cecil B. DeMille production. At one time it may have seemed a little like Hollywood-meets-medicine, but that’s no longer the case. Technology has evolved from sophisticated setups and cumbersome platforms to tools that are easy to access and implement. In addition to the staples of the medium—secure, two-way audio-video communications and data and image transfer—you can now link to third parties, such as specialists, family members, and caregivers. And all this can be done from a laptop with off-the-shelf software.

Of course, you don’t have to go it alone if you don’t want to. You can opt to partner with telehealth services like American Well, MDLive, Teladoc, or Doctors on Demand, which amounts to joining an existing telemedicine network. One of the advantages of this option, beyond the chance to test drive your participation, is exposure to new patients, many of whom will become loyal, in-office patients.

So how do you get started? First decide what kind of services you want to offer.

  1. What are the prevailing medical issues of your current patient population? If a pattern doesn’t jump out at you, consider reviewing your records to identify your most common codes.
  2. What medical needs exist in communities just beyond the borders of your reach? Are there rural areas or towns with a high elderly population you could serve?

Take a moment to consider a “day in the life” at your medical practice. What services would fit well with your needs? Maybe you’d like to streamline routine, non-urgent conditions, in a manner similar to Spectrum Health’s program. Or perhaps you’d like to enhance patient care in special circumstances, such as postsurgical follow-ups or medication reconciliation after discharge.

What chronic conditions do you treat—COPD, asthma, congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, chronic pain, diabetes…? Numerous remote patient monitoring (RPM) programs have worked out the kinks and make excellent models to guide your implementation.

But perhaps the question holding you back is simply this: Is it possible to maximize your provider(s) through telemedicine technologies—without taxing your provider(s)? The answer is: Quite likely. It may take some ingenuity on the front end, but the possibilities will pay off for you and the patients you serve.

It’s been said before, “If you build it, they will come.” The applications of telemedicine are limitless, with significant opportunities to improve healthcare affordability, to enhance patient engagement, and to address the shortage of primary healthcare providers. The value of telemedicine, to be sure, is not limited to rural areas. Urban areas also have need to improve the physician connection with both patients and specialized colleagues.

Isn’t it time you got involved?

Learn More

To get up to speed on telemedicine technology, guidelines, coding, and reimbursement, pick up TCI’s Telemedicine & Telehealth Handbook for Medical Practices 2018.



  1. Davis, K. Stremikis, D. Squires, and C. Schoen. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: How the Performance of the U.S. Healthcare System Compares Internationally, 2014 Update, The Commonwealth Fund, June 2014.

A Business Case for Tele-Intensive Care Units. Alberto Coustasse, Stacie Deslich, Deanna Bailey, Alesia Hairston, David Paul. The Permanente Journal; p. 2014 Fall; 18(4): 76–84. Available from:

Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project Statistical Brief #185: Utilization of Intensive Care Services, 2011, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, December 2014.



Elizabeth works on an array of projects at TCI, researching and writing about modern reimbursement challenges. Since joining TCI in 2017, she has also covered the nuts and bolts of cybersecurity, compliance with federal laws, and how to tap into the advantages of telehealth services.

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