Telemedicine Takes Center Stage

Dr. Teresa Bartlett, Managing Director, Senior Medical Officer, Sedgwick

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has thrust telemedicine into the spotlight. When faced with sitting in a crowded physician waiting room versus having a medical consult from the comforts of home, many people are embracing telemedicine as means to minimize exposure to the coronavirus. With increasing acceptance among the general population, many employers are now shifting their focus to see how telemedicine can be more widely applied within their workers’ compensation programs.

Telemedicine has an interesting history. While often thought of as a new concept, some forms of telemedicine were used as early as the 1950s. Initial variations allowed physicians to complete medical consults, exchange expertise, and share medical records. A part of the broader telehealth field, telemedicine has evolved significantly. Today, it is most commonly thought of as the delivery of virtual healthcare for patients.

Telemedicine is not appropriate for addressing extreme or severe medical situations. However, it can be an effective alternative for treating minor injuries and illnesses such as strains, sprains, and abrasions; types of common infections, colds, and flu; and rashes, insect bites, and skin inflammations. Additionally, telemedicine is particularly well-suited for certain medical specialties such as radiology, psychiatry, dermatology, or pediatrics. Telemedicine is also an excellent way to provide medical services to people in rural or remote areas and as well as small hospitals that do not employ full-time specialists.

These types of successful applications have opened the door for telemedicine to become more commonly used to treat work-related injuries and conditions. This includes techniques to provide initial injury diagnoses, rechecks and monitoring, as well as some physical therapy services.

In establishing a telemedicine arrangement, an initial investment must be made by the provider or health system to ensure appropriate technology is in place to provide a seamless telemedicine experience. The technology infrastructure is also essential to protect the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship and the medical information shared. It assumes patients have access to a mobile device or computer and are comfortable using these platforms. In some instances, training and assistance may be needed to ensure the delivery of a high quality patient experience. Telemedicine regulations vary by state along with licensing requirements for physicians

Despite all the technology safeguards, some patients may be intimidated by this technology. Privacy concerns may arise when patients fear their medical information could be compromised or disclosed using telemedicine technology. Additionally, some patients feel telemedicine is impersonal and prefer in-person discussions with their physicians.

Despite these concerns, telemedicine’s most notable advantages are it offers fast, convenient care that transcends many geographical boundaries. When properly structured, telemedicine can streamline care and provide for more efficient delivery of services. In some cases, physicians and patients report an even higher level of satisfaction when using telemedicine. It can save time, travel and expense. And in today’s age of COVID-19, it can minimize exposure to people and illnesses.

In summary, telemedicine is becoming increasingly popular as a virtual alternative to treat and care for injured workers. It can be an effective and efficient care delivery platform and a strong program extension. With the advancement of technology, increasing consumer demands, and projected shortage of physicians in some areas, telemedicine’s expanded use and increasing popularity can be expected to continue in the coming years. Telemedicine is one more way to improve injured worker access to patient-centered care.