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For Patients

How does telehealth work?

A patient at a local health care facility (or even from home in some cases) can have a telehealth encounter with a specialty care provider who is located at a distant site through a video conference. A nurse will often be on hand at the local facility to conduct physical examination tasks (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) as requested by the specialist at the distant site in order to give you the best care. Cameras and other monitoring tools allow the specialist to see on screen exactly what the nurse is seeing in person. For example, during a dermatology exam, the specialist is able to zoom in and polarize a few of the skin concern. Aside from the technology, sessions are treated like an in-person appointment. As one of our NRTRC members once pointed out, “The technology just falls away and it’s a discussion between the doctor and the patient."

I have heard the term mHealth. What’s that all about?

Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, is nothing more than telehealth delivered using a wireless serices (cell phones, tablets, etc.). mHealth is simply a tool for the practice of telemedicine. mHealth is an important step toward bringing care closer to the patient.

How can I access telehealth care as a patient?

Access to telehealth services is rapidly expanding across the country. If you’re interested in telehealth, call your provider and ask whether they offer telehealth services. Many hospital systems, independent specialists and specialist groups now offer telehealth services, so chances are good that your primary care provider (PCP) will have access to specialty care for patients. (For PCPs that do not have telehealth services available, there are myriad resource centers that can help them get started. ) Additionally, there are numerous direct-to-patient (DTP) businesses starting up. These businesses offer urgent care options though a patient’s home computer or even a tablet or smart phone.

Is telehealth safe for me and my family?

Yes. Telehealth is guided by medical best practices and standard-of-care policies for the specialty delivered. Telehealth is a safe and cost-effective means of providing and receiving health care. The American Telemedicine Association has produced a series standards, guidelines and best practices for healthcare providers to guide them in developing their practices. Those guidelines are available here.

Is there a difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

No. The term telemedicine reefers specifically to patient and health care provider encounters for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. The term telehealth is a broader tem that includes telemedicine, but also includes using the technology for preventive, educational and health-related administrative activities. Telehealth is typically used as a broader term to describe remote healthcare education and administration and wellness consults that lie outside clinical services. Telemedicine refers to direct clinical care. See the TRC Coalition statement on the FAQ Home Page.

Can telehealth help me and my family?

Telehealth is designed for one purpose: to bring primary and specialty health care services to remote areas and underserved populations where such care might not be readily available. Telehealth can bring more timely services to you when your need is urgent and the follow-up care can be done in your home town in many cases. Potentially, telehealth can save you and your family travel expenses, lost time from work and the costs of getting to care centers miles from your home.

Will telehealth stop me from visiting my doctor’s office?

Absolutely not! 

While technology will continue to enhance the delivery of healthcare as we know it today, it will never eliminate the need for in-person interactions with your primary care provider. Your personal relationship with your doctor will always be of key importance for your health care. Just as e-mail changed the way we communicate, telehealth is changing our definition of the ‘typical’ office visit. The results will lead to improved access to care, lower cost of delivery, and, ultimately, improved patient outcomes.

While direct-to-patient (DTP) outlets offer limited care in the home, they can't take the place of your own doctor. DTP providers simply make seeing a physician easier for urgent care. And they may just refer you back to your primary care doc in certain cases.

Will my insurance cover telehealth?

For private insurers: In many cases, telehealth services are covered by insurance. 

Some states in the Northwest Region now require private payers to reimburse for telehealth care (Montana, Washington and Oregon). The laws are different in each state and they are evolving. To be certain of the reimbursement, discuss the procedure with your provider. For a comprehensive overview of telehealth reimbursement in each of the 50 states, visit our colleagues at the Center for Connected Health Policy. In circumstances where telehealth isn’t covered by insurance, you will have the option of directly paying for care you receive and still reap the benefits of saved time and travel expenses to see a distant specialist.

For Medicare and Medicaid: Medicare reimburses providers for some services and also reimburses originating sites (the site where the patient is at the time of the encounter) a small facility fee. Medicare is slowly expanding the services for which they will reimburse.

Medicaid reimbursement varies from state to state and we recommend you contact your state’s Medicaid office for information.

Can I use telehealth for an ear infection or a cold?

In theory you can use telehealth for almost any health care concern. 

Telehealth encounters are structured similarly to an in-person encounter with a physician. Most often, however, telehealth is used when a patient needs access to specialized services not offered by their home provider. On a broader scale, telehealth can be used for skin cancer screenings, mental health evaluations, orthopedic consults, management of chronic diseases and a wide range of other medical services. 

A new care access methodology is growing in availability and use. Direct-to-Patient (DTP) providers are offering the option of seeing a physician for non-threatening symptoms and may offer treatment suggestions, refer the patient to their primary care provider or the emergency room, depending on the severity of the symptoms. 

States have different requirements and laws regarding DTP prescribing and encounters, so you may need to check with local regulations before contacting a DTP provider.

Does telehealth improve patient outcomes?

Several studies have evaluated the clinical impact of telehealth and many are very positive for several reasons:
  •  Specialty care can be managed locally and studies show that patients heal better when they are in their home community and family and friends can offer support
  • Patients in highly rural areas can receive specialty care 'at home.' This not only helps avoid travel to large cities, but encourages people to get care they might otherwise forego because they feel they can't make the trip
  • Remote monitoring helps chronically ill patients manage their condition at home and has been demonstrated to reduce hospital readmissions and emergency room visits.
There are many reports that highlight the clinical benefits of increased access to care that telehealth can provide. In addition, both patient and provider satisfaction with telehealth rival those measures for face-to-face medicine.

Several studies have demonstrated the business aspects of telehealth, reporting that telehealth can lower healthcare costs while others delve into the business case for telehealth.

Is telehealth good for my community?

For rural, remote and under-served communities, telehealth can help bring specialty care that would otherwise not be available, or that would require costly or difficult travel and lost time from work or school. If a remote specialist orders specific care, laboratory tests or prescriptions, they can be handled by local hospitals, clinics or pharmacies.

Additionally, telehealth can help improve the perception of the levels of quality care available in the community, which is attractive to people who are considering moving to an area.

For Primary Care Providers

How does telehealth work?

A patient at a local health care facility (or even from home in some cases) can have a telehealth encounter with a specialty care provider who is located at a distant site through a video conference. A nurse will often be on hand at the local facility to conduct physical examination tasks (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc.) as requested by the specialist at the distant site in order to give you the best care. Cameras and other monitoring tools allow the specialist to see on screen exactly what the nurse is seeing in person. For example, during a dermatology exam, the specialist is able to zoom in and polarize a few of the skin concern. Aside from the technology, sessions are treated like an in-person appointment. As one of our NRTRC members once pointed out, “The technology just falls away and it’s a discussion between the doctor and the patient.”

Will telehealth stop me from visiting my doctor’s office?

Absolutely not! 

While technology will continue to enhance the delivery of healthcare as we know it today, it will never eliminate the need for in-person interactions with your primary care provider. Your personal relationship with your doctor will always be of key importance for your health care. Just as e-mail changed the way we communicate, telehealth is changing our definition of the ‘typical’ office visit. The results will lead to improved access to care, lower cost of delivery, and, ultimately, improved patient outcomes.

While direct-to-patient (DTP) outlets offer limited care in the home, they can't take the place of your own doctor. DTP providers simply make seeing a physician easier for urgent care. And they may just refer you back to your primary care doc in certain cases.

Will insurance reimburse for my patients' telehealth encounters?

For Private Payers: In many cases, telehealth services are covered by insurance. Some states in the Northwest Region now require private payers to reimburse for telehealth care (Montana, Washington and Oregon). The laws are different in each state and they are evolving. To be certain of the reimbursement, discuss the procedure with your billing department or insurers you work with. For a comprehensive overview of telehealth reimbursement in each of the 50 states, visit www.cchpca.org. In circumstances where telehealth isn’t covered by insurance, patients will have the option of paying for care you deliver and still reap the benefits of saved time and travel expenses to see a distant specialist.

For Medicare and Medicaid: Medicare reimburses providers for some services and also reimburses originating sites (the site where the patient is at the time of the encounter) a small facility fee. Medicare is slowly expanding the services for which they will reimburse.

Medicaid reimbursement varies from state to state and we recommend you contact your state’s Medicaid office for information.

Does telehealth improve patient outcomes?

Several studies have evaluated the clinical impact of telehealth and many are very positive for several reasons:
  •  Specialty care can be managed locally and studies show that patients heal better when they are in their home community and family and friends can offer support
  • Patients in highly rural areas can receive specialty care 'at home.' This not only helps avoid travel to large cities, but encourages people to get care they might otherwise forego because they feel they can't make the trip
  • Remote monitoring helps chronically ill patients manage their condition at home and has been demonstrated to reduce hospital readmissions and emergency room visits.
There are many reports that highlight the clinical benefits of increased access to care that telehealth can provide. In addition, both patient and provider satisfaction with telehealth rival those measures for face-to-face medicine.

Several studies have demonstrated the business aspects of telehealth, reporting that telehealth can lower healthcare costs while others delve into the business case for telehealth.

How can I learn to deliver care through telehealth?

There are several educational resources and continuing education courses available to train physicians and mid-level providers on how to deliver care via telehealth connections. 

For a broader list of educational opportunities, visit the Telehealth Training page on the NRTRC Website or contact us directly for information regarding your specialty.

I have heard the term mHealth. What’s that all about?

Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, is nothing more than telehealth delivered using a wireless serices (cell phones, tablets, etc.). mHealth is simply a tool for the practice of telemedicine. mHealth is an important step toward bringing care closer to the patient.

Is telehealth good for my community?

For rural, remote and under-served communities, telehealth can help bring specialty care that would otherwise not be available, or that would require costly or difficult travel and lost time from work or school. If a remote specialist orders specific care, laboratory tests or prescriptions, they can be handled by local hospitals, clinics or pharmacies.

Additionally, telehealth can help improve the perception of the levels of quality care available in the community, which is attractive to people who are considering moving to an area.

How can my practice or system become involved in telehealth?

Planning is key to telehealth success. Several different areas need to be considered and plans must be carefully laid. A successful telehealth program requires more than equipment. The keys to success include:
  • Strategic Planning
  • Commitment from administration and medical staff
  • Budget and staffing support
  • A culture that embraces technology for patient care
  • Support from a distant partner who will refer patients to your program
  • Support from distant providers to offer care you might want to refer your patients for
  • A technology infrastructure and staff that support the addition of telehealth services.
For advice on how to get all the necessary components in place for a successful telehealth program, visit our website's Business of Telehealth page here, or contact NRTRC directly through the contact link here.

For Hospital Administrators and Providers

How can my system become involved in telehealth?

A successful telehealth program requires more than equipment. 
The keys to success include: 
  • Strategic Planning 
  • Commitment from administration and medical staff 
  • Budget and staffing support 
  • A culture that embraces technology for patient care 
  • Support from a distant partner who will refer patients to your program 
  • Support from distant providers to offer care you might want to refer your patients for

Will insurance reimburse for my patients' telehealth encounters?

For Private Payers: In many cases, telehealth services are covered by insurance. Some states in the Northwest Region now require private payers to reimburse for telehealth care (Montana, Washington and Oregon). The laws are different in each state and they are evolving. To be certain of the reimbursement, discuss the procedure with your billing department or insurers you work with. For a comprehensive overview of telehealth reimbursement in each of the 50 states, visit www.cchpca.org. In circumstances where telehealth isn’t covered by insurance, patients will have the option of paying for care you deliver and still reap the benefits of saved time and travel expenses to see a distant specialist.

For Medicare and Medicaid: Medicare reimburses providers for some services and also reimburses originating sites (the site where the patient is at the time of the encounter) a small facility fee. Medicare is slowly expanding the services for which they will reimburse.

Medicaid reimbursement varies from state to state and we recommend you contact your state’s Medicaid office for information.

Does telehealth improve patient outcomes?

Several studies have evaluated the clinical impact of telehealth and many are very positive for several reasons:
  •  Specialty care can be managed locally and studies show that patients heal better when they are in their home community and family and friends can offer support
  • Patients in highly rural areas can receive specialty care 'at home.' This not only helps avoid travel to large cities, but encourages people to get care they might otherwise forego because they feel they can't make the trip
  • Remote monitoring helps chronically ill patients manage their condition at home and has been demonstrated to reduce hospital readmissions and emergency room visits.
There are many reports that highlight the clinical benefits of increased access to care that telehealth can provide. In addition, both patient and provider satisfaction with telehealth rival those measures for face-to-face medicine.

Several studies have demonstrated the business aspects of telehealth, reporting that telehealth can lower healthcare costs while others delve into the business case for telehealth.

How can I learn to deliver care through telehealth?

There are several educational resources and continuing education courses available to train physicians and mid-level providers on how to deliver care via telehealth connections. 

For a broader list of educational opportunities, visit the Telehealth Training page on the NRTRC Website or contact us directly for information regarding your specialty.

I have heard the term mHealth. What’s that all about?

Mobile health, often referred to as mHealth, is nothing more than telehealth delivered using a wireless serices (cell phones, tablets, etc.). mHealth is simply a tool for the practice of telemedicine. mHealth is an important step toward bringing care closer to the patient.

Is telehealth good for my community?

For rural, remote and under-served communities, telehealth can help bring specialty care that would otherwise not be available, or that would require costly or difficult travel and lost time from work or school. If a remote specialist orders specific care, laboratory tests or prescriptions, they can be handled by local hospitals, clinics or pharmacies.

Additionally, telehealth can help improve the perception of the levels of quality care available in the community, which is attractive to people who are considering moving to an area.

How can my practice or system become involved in telehealth?

Planning is key to telehealth success. Several different areas need to be considered and plans must be carefully laid. A successful telehealth program requires more than equipment. The keys to success include:
  • Strategic Planning
  • Commitment from administration and medical staff
  • Budget and staffing support
  • A culture that embraces technology for patient care
  • Support from a distant partner who will refer patients to your program
  • Support from distant providers to offer care you might want to refer your patients for
  • A technology infrastructure and staff that support the addition of telehealth services.
For advice on how to get all the necessary components in place for a successful telehealth program, visit our website's Business of Telehealth page here, or contact NRTRC directly through the contact link here.

Can telehealth help my hospital system grow!

There are several benefits for individual hospitals and hospital systems, some of which include increased service offering within your facilities, increased revenues, enhanced competitive differentiation and improved patient experience. To discuss specific benefits that your organization could realize through telehealth implementation, contact NRTRC here.

Is telehealth right for my organization?

There are several questions you can ask to help you identify the value telehealth can provide to your organization. If you answer ‘yes’ to one of more of the following questions, telehealth could be a great asset to your organization.
  • Do you have several locations within the same healthcare system?
  • Do you provide outreach services?
  • Do your patients travel to other facilities for services not available at yours?
  • Have you identified health disparities in your community for which you don’t have the services or expertise necessary to provide care?
  • Do your competitors use telehealth services and are you losing market share as a result?
For a complete list of criteria to help you evaluate whether telehealth is a fit for your organization, contact NRTRC for further information and assistance.

Does my Critical Access Hospital have to be part of an larger system?

Not necessarily. 

NRTRC has a few Critical Access Hospitals that are receiving care from several different providers in different systems or independent specialists. It’s a matter of making a connection and there are ways that can be done without having to be a ‘captive’ member of a large system’s telehealth network. Contact NRTRC for further information.

How can telehealth help my ten-bed Critical Access Hospital?

There are several ways a small hospital can benefit from telehealth. 

If you can keep your patients local and provide laboratory and other services ordered by distant specialists, or manage a patient in your hospital under the supervision of a specialty provider at a distant location, you can help your financial status. Additionally, your small facility will receive public relations benefits from offering ‘big city’ care right at home. 

We know of one 25-bed hospital that does almost 1,000 encounters a month via telehealth. That’s 1,000 encounters where the patient is in their facility and many of those appointments generate revenue through labs and imaging. The telehealth leader there tells us that telehealth is keeping their doors open.

We know of another 2-bed Critical Access Hospital that has a one-bed ICU which is managed by an intensivist group in a distant city. Imagine being able to provide ICU care that keeps your patients near their families and friends, which has been shown to enhance recovery.

For Technologists

What is the relationship between telehealth and health information technologies?

Health Information Technology (HIT) is the general term used to refer to generating and transmitting health data digitally. Generally, HIT is used more for administrative functions.
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