The health care industry is quietly going through a historic change. More and more often, medical care is being handled remotely — rather than face-to-face — via a system known as telemedicine. This new system has already yielded significant benefits and should continue to expand, despite a few challenges. As a business that wants to offer top-of-the-line health care to its employees, it’s time to get up to speed on this latest trend and take stock of what it potentially offers your workforce

Its Role Today

Telemedicine already plays a major role in modern medicine. Up to 80 percent of hospitals are completing some health care processes remotely, especially for analyzing test results such as X-rays and MRIs. Patient consultations are starting to move online, as well. With widespread access to fast Internet and quality video-streaming technology for both patients and medical providers, it’s become much easier to run digital consultations through websites such as LiveHealth Online. Through these websites, patients can consult with a doctor almost immediately. Patients can also use monitoring equipment at home so that specialists can track their health problems even when they’re out of the hospital.

Benefits

Telemedicine’s biggest advantage is that it opens up many possibilities in terms of where medical care can be delivered. Patients no longer have to drive to a hospital or doctor’s office to receive a medical consultation. Many areas in the United States are underserved medically because they don’t have enough people to support a regular doctor, let alone specialists. With digital access, however, more people have access to the quality medical care they need.

This system also opens up new options for medical providers by giving them access to a much larger pool of patients. At the same time, they can run tests remotely through hospitals across the country and thus are no longer limited to the equipment they have in their area.

Finally, remote care is lowering the cost of health care: The average cost of a virtual doctor’s appointment is about $100 less than a face-to-face appointment. These savings can help lower medical premiums for patients, while medical providers who work online are better equipped to avoid the expense of running a full-time office for physical consultations.

The Future of This System

For telemedicine to continue growing, technology still needs to improve. The country needs to provide even more access to high-speed Internet, while researchers need to improve monitoring technology to provide better data for patients who are out of the hospital. Patients and doctors also need to become more comfortable with remote appointments.

Perhaps the biggest barrier right now is compensation for these treatments, especially from government agencies. Medicare currently doesn’t cover many remote-care services, and the majority of states fail to do a good job reimbursing providers for this type of care. However, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs seems to be adapting well; it treated more than 690,000 patients remotely last year.

If more widespread adoption of telemedicine continues to show the potential for significant improvements in care, state and government agencies will likely move to adapt. By the same token, the business world overall will begin to adjust as these practices become more mainstream. In the future, remote-care services could be a major aspect of health care plans and benefits packages.

With technology and patient expectations evolving, all signs point to virtual and remote health care becoming the norm. Medicine is finally catching up to the digital age, and as a business leader, it’s important to familiarize yourself with these latest trends before your workers come to expect them.

David Rodeck is a professional freelance writer based out of Delaware. Before writing full-time, he worked as a health- and life-insurance agent. He specializes in making insurance, investing and financial planning understandable.