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The Importance of Specialty Telehealth Services

specialty telehealth services

Discussions around telehealth often focus on its applications for primary and acute care providers. While these providers — and their patients — certainly reap the benefits of telehealth, they are not alone. In fact, telehealth has the potential to deliver significant value to specialty telehealth services when the technology is leveraged effectively.

Here are examples of how several specialties are benefiting from telehealth services.

Telehealth in Sports Medicine

A study published in the Journal of ISAKOS (Joint Disorders & Orthopedic Sports Medicine) examined how sports medicine could use telemedicine to improve the delivery of remote care.

The study compared clinical visits and wait times between telemedicine and in-person visits at a tertiary pediatric orthopedic clinic. 

The results were noteworthy, with substantial reductions in wait and overall visit times. Telehealth also eliminated the need for families to drive to the appointments, delivering significant cost savings while also saving the clinic labor costs. More than 90% of patients expressed satisfaction with the telemedicine experience. 

In the study, Dr. Alfred Atanda Jr. is quoted by mHealthIntelligence.com as stating,

“Pediatric sports medicine is well suited for these patients because parents can get immediate access to a sports medicine provider without having to miss work or remove their child from school. In many instances, the parents are merely seeking information, guidance, and advice about their child’s injury that can be often conveyed via the telemedicine platform without the need for special equipment. Moreover, the athletes themselves are often well-versed in current technology and can assist their parents with the technical aspects of the telemedicine visit.”

Telehealth in Ophthalmology

For the discussion of teleophthalmology benefits, reviewing the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) telemedicine services web page tells us a great deal. These services are used to provide remote consultations, test interpretations, and diabetic retinopathy screenings. UPMC states,

“These teleopthalmology services can be invaluable for patients who live in regions where local hospitals do not employ ophthalmologists.”

Among the benefits highlighted by UPMC:

  • Timely diagnosis and treatment plan recommendation
  • Continuity of care
  • Support for local physician management

Concerning diabetic retinopathy, UPMC notes that while federal guidelines recommend that all people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes undergo a comprehensive retina exam at least annually to screen for diabetic retinopathy, many people with diabetes do not regularly follow up with a retina specialist for reasons including inconvenience and cost. The use of a telemedicine process as part of a UPMC project to deliver retinal screening was the subject of a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. The conclusion:

“Our project successfully demonstrated that the retinal screening software and workflow process can be used to overcome challenges of providing adequate screening and diagnostic services for people at risk for diabetic retinopathy.”

Telehealth in Urology

The value of teleurology is on full display when reviewing the American Urological Association’s (AUA) white paper “Telemedicine in Urology.” As the paper states, the potential benefits of telemedicine to urology include “… expanded access for patients, efficiency of time and expense, improved patient satisfaction, improved physician satisfaction, and even improved quality of care.”

The white paper shares several examples of outpatient and inpatient teleurology. Concerning outpatient teleurology, AUA spotlights programs such as that of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, which provides consultations to veterans living remotely and in areas of greater Los Angeles; Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., which leverages televisits for prostatectomy patients to greatly reduce time away from work and eliminate travel expenses without reducing quality; and University of Utah, which is using telemedicine to help deliver urology services to children.

Concerning inpatient teleurology, AUA discusses telesurgery. AUA calls on urologists to “… partner with telecommunication and surgical instrument companies to develop products that would support urologic telemedicine in the future.” AUA also discusses telerounding — the concept of remotely rounding on patients. One example provided spotlights the work of urologist Dr. Peter Bretan in Novato, Calif., who has used telerounding for several years to, in part, provide comprehensive inpatient care to six rural hospitals and a prison an average 100 miles away from each other and from his office.

AUA’s conclusions on teleurology include the following:

“Urologists should continue to embrace new ideas in telemedicine. … As limitations dissipate, and as new technological solutions are developed, it is possible that telemedicine will become completely integrated into urologic training and healthcare delivery to fulfill the proposition of access and quality urologic care.”

Telehealth in Pain Management

Considering the significant importance of delivering effective pain management — and particularly while we’re in the midst of the opioid epidemic — it’s encouraging to see pain management providers embrace telehealth.

One example was profiled in a mHealthIntelligence.com article last year. Relievus Pain Management, which is based in Cherry Hill, N.J., added a telemedicine platform in mid-2018 that allows its providers to monitor patients at home and adjust care plans. In addition to monitoring pain, the platform also helps with examining a patient’s mental wellbeing. 

As the article describes, patients participating in the telehealth program log into an app daily and fill out a questionnaire concerning their physical and mental health. Providers log into a dashboard each day to review the patient’s status and make any necessary adjusts to the treatment regimen.

In the article, the clinic’s managing partner and one of its pain specialists and anesthesiologists discuss the benefits of this telehealth approach to patient monitoring as compared to the older method, which saw patients only fill out a survey during their monthly, on-site visit at clinics. Among the benefits highlighted were daily monitoring of physical and mental health, more effective analysis of care plan adherence, and a better understanding of factors likely to affect health.

Telehealth in Pharmacy

We would be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the impact of telehealth on the pharmacists who serve those patients receiving care from specialty providers. One example of how pharmacists are leveraging telehealth is through the use of Meds 360°, Cureatr’s medication management platform. Comprehensive Pharmacy Services — the nation’s largest hospital and health system pharmacy services provider — selected Meds 360° to further support its telepharmacy division. You can learn more about Meds 360° and how it assists pharmacists, clinicians, and organizations by watching this recent webinar.

Telehealth in Other Specialties

For discussion of other specialty telehealth services, including psychiatry/mental health, obstetrics, gynecology, and neurology, check out this Cureatr blog from earlier in the year.

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