Telemedicine: Is It Working For You?

Hospitals are projected to be understaffed in excess of 40,000 positions once the US health IT (HIT) agenda is fulfilled and hospitals adopt higher levels of technology.

There's a bit of good news for the information technology (IT) folks here in the US that have been sweating bullets over employment for the last six or seven years. In a report resulting of a study based on the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) analytic database, hospitals are projected to be understaffed in excess of 40,000 positions once the US health IT (HIT) agenda is fulfilled and hospitals adopt higher levels of technology.

My personal opinion is that this estimate is very low. According to the report, there’s only around 108,390 IT professionals currently employed in healthcare (excluding, of course, all of the people who are employed by vendors who supply IT products to physicians and hospitals), and I find that number a bit shocking. Comprehensive, integrated, and practical electronic medical records (EMR) system implementation and maintenance alone requires IT staff of some sort.

And speaking of IT, a few years ago when I became familiar with software developed to automate informed patient consent, content was being added to the system to address telemedicine. Consents like these were considered important due to the increasing use of devices providing continuous wireless monitoring or store-and-forward data function, and sharing of digital technology between clinicians. They were also necessary for providing medical care via the internet or telephone to patients who, for example, without ready access to specialists or with chronic conditions requiring intensive management.

All of these issues are relevant to pediatrics and have received attention by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). To date, there appears to be varying levels at which telemedicine has been adopted for use this arena. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a technical report in 2004 regarding pediatric applications, and I have noted some adoption of telemedicine practices in some children’s hospital systems. The pediatric practices in my area routinely offer telephone consultation for parents with sick children with a pediatric nurse, as well as limited interaction with staff via the practice website.

Read more about telemedicine’s impact on the geriatric population in our Web Exclusive, “Telemedicine Solves the Aging Crisis?”

Has your office adopted any telemedicine practices, and if so, what have you found to be the pros and cons? Did you simply trade office time with a patient for increased record review and follow up, or does the benefit to the patient and family outweigh administrative inconvenience?

Anyone out there interested in learning more about the core standards for implementing telemedicine, you can access them on the American Telemedicine Association’s (ATA) website. The organization’s conference occurred at the first of this month, but you can still get useful information regarding what their program is like as well as find vendors who support telemedicine. Sadly, pediatric applications were not included on their conference agenda this year — heck, there isn’t even a pediatric telehealth special interest group formed - but there are two fall meetings scheduled, and it would be a shame if pediatric researchers didn’t answer the call for papers.

Read more on telemedicine in our April 2007 Feature Story, “Telemedicine: Seeing the Future Today,” written by ATA Executive Director, Johnathan D. Linkous.