Videoconferencing isn’t necessary for all telemedicine encounters, Linkous says. Teledermatology and retinal screening use “store and forward” communication of images, which allows for the electronic transmission of images and documents in non-emergent situations in which immediate video isn’t necessary.
“As a society, we’ve become more comfortable with the technology,” says Matthew Harbison, MD, medical director of Sound Physicians hospitalist services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center in Houston. “And as the technology continues to develop, ultimately there will be [more of] a role, but how large that will be is difficult to predict.” He adds that “the advantages are obviously in low-staffed places or staffing-challenged sites.”
As experts continue to iron out the kinks and as communities obtain greater access to broadband signals, telemedicine equipment is moving to advanced high-definition platforms. Meanwhile, the expense has come down considerably since its inception in the mid-1990s. A high-definition setup that once cost upward of $130,000 is now available for less than $10,000, Cattell-Gordon says.
The digital transmission also can assist in patient follow-up after discharge from the hospital and in monitoring various chronic diseases from home. It’s an effective tool for medical staff meetings and training purposes as well.
IPC’s hospitalists have been using the technology to communicate with each other, brainstorming across regions of the country. “Because we’re a national company,” Dr. Weiner says, “this has changed the game in terms of being able to collaborate.”
Susan Kreimer is a freelance medical writer based in New York.