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Will ACP Telemedicine Implementation Guidelines Improve Care?

By Vera Gruessner

- The use of telehealth technology has expanded greatly throughout the United States in recent years as a method for improving access to care among patients living in rural areas or those facing a doctor shortage. There are clearly significant benefits to telehealth technology. However, telemedicine implementation guidelines are needed to reduce any risks associated with telehealth use.

Telehealth Technology Use

The American College of Physicians (ACP) stated in a press release that policymakers and other stakeholders need to incorporate effective telemedicine implementation guidelines and policies in order to minimize the risks of telehealth use among patients and physicians. The ACP released a paper – called A Guide to the Use of Telemedicine in Primary Care Settings: An American College of Physicians Position Paper – outlining the need for greater oversight when it comes to developing the telemedicine landscape over the coming years.

The position paper is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Even though telehealth expands care and offers new solutions for patients living in rural areas, it does come along with risks and challenges among the provider community.

“ACP supports lifting geographic site restrictions that limit reimbursement of telemedicine and telehealth services by Medicare to those that originate outside of metropolitan statistical areas or for patients who live in or receive service in health professional shortage areas,” the position paper stated.

The ACP offer more than one dozen telemedicine implementation guidelines and policies for primary care providers to follow with regard to utilization and reimbursement of telehealth. The organization also states that many of the typical illnesses and symptoms patients faced thought to require an in-person visit may not actually necessitate the doctor to see the individual face-to-face.

With the wide variety of technology available from videoconferencing to remote stethoscopes and other remote monitoring tools, the telemedicine field allows doctors to provide care to patients from afar.

Some key telemedicine implementation guidelines the organization recommends include creating a strong relationship with the patient that will receive remote care or consulting with a primary care physician who does have an established relationship with said patient as well as addressing the needs of patients that come from all economic backgrounds and those with low health or technology literacy.

Additionally, providers need to take steps to ensure that patients are able to afford the hardware and Internet access necessary to conduct telehealth visits. Doctors should decide whether telemedicine use is appropriate for each patient, as delivering clinically correct care is of the utmost importance.

Additionally, telemedicine implementation guidelines should focus on keeping videoconferencing systems secure and private. In particular, healthcare providers incorporating telehealth in their primary care practice should follow state and federal security and privacy regulations.

In order to move beyond expanding access to care and focus on improving health outcomes across the patient population, it is important to create “evidence-based guidelines and clinical guidance” for doctors to incorporate when using telemedicine tools, the ACP recommends.

One area that’s about to experience the benefits of telemedicine services in Hancock County, Indiana. 41NBC reports that Mercer University's School of Medicine will be working with several partners to create a telehealth platform for residents living in rural locations at least half an hour from a hospital.

“The Hancock initiative is an effort to re-establish primary healthcare services to people in Hancock County,” Dr. Jean Sumner told the news source. “It is the ability that is now available through good technology to examine people from a distance.”

“One of the goals of the project is to hopefully reduce the number of unnecessary transports to the emergency room,” Georgia Partnership for TeleHealth liaison Sam Stephenson told the source.

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