Commentary

Direct-to-patient telemedicine has benefits for providers, patients, and the practice


 

Innovations in care delivery, as previously introduced by Dr. Robert Gabbay, can enhance the patient and physician experience. Providing care via telemedicine can bring joy to work by introducing variety to practice. It also carries the satisfaction of easing access to care for the patient.

Michelle Griffith, assistant professor of medicine and medical director, Ambulatory Telehealth Services, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn. Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Dr. Michelle Griffith

Broadly speaking, telemedicine can be seen as a tool for delivering care when a hands-on exam is not required. In direct-to-patient telemedicine, the patient can use a personal smartphone, tablet, or computer to connect with a provider in a real-time audio and/or video “visit” from home or work. The engagement can be scheduled or on demand. Although telemedicine is generally associated with the delivery of care to patients in remote or rural locations, it is increasingly being used in urban areas, especially with older patients and those for whom transport or time away from work might be difficult.

How the patient benefits

This built-in flexibility is appealing to patients – the easier access and convenience can translate into reduced time away from work or school and possibly a reduction in patient “no-shows.” Patients are more likely to enjoy the benefits of continuity of care with their own providers, rather than seeking independent, consumer-marketed services. In a nationwide survey of 4,345 respondents about attitudes toward telemedicine in primary care, 52% of respondents said they would like to see their own providers via telemedicine, 35% were willing to see a different provider from the same organization, and 15% said they would consider leaving their current provider to see one who offered telemedicine (BMC Health Services Research. 2017;17:784).

In addition, numerous studies have reported on the equivalent clinical outcomes and improved cost-of-care benefits in patients who receive diabetes care through telemedicine. Lui and colleagues looked at patients at the Denver VA Medical Center who were newly diagnosed with diabetes and they compared short-term glycemic control in patients who had telemedicine consultations with patients who had in-person visits. They found that the telemedicine consultations improved short-term glycemic control as effectively as the in-person visits, but with possible added financial benefits for both the patients and the health care system. (J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2016;10[5]:1079-86). Likewise, Fatehi and colleagues have reported that method of consultation – telemedicine or in-person consultation – did not affect concordance of advice between two endocrinologists (Diabetes Technol Ther. 2015;17[10]:717-25).

What telemedicine has to offer

There is a range of diabetes care services that can be delivered through telemedicine consultation. When appropriate diagnostic labs have already been performed, newly diagnosed patients can be counseled on their diagnosis and started on therapy. For patients who have already been diagnosed, follow-up and monitoring of therapy adherence and glycemic control can be more convenient and done more routinely, compared with in-person visits, and thus yield better outcomes.

Use of cloud-based services to review data from glucometers, insulin pumps, and continuous glucose monitors allows the clinicians to access the same data they would in the office. Combining this data review with a video visit, rather than looking at the data in isolation, allows for increased patient engagement, shared decision making, and patient counseling.

Other diagnoses that readily fit at-home telemedicine care include gestational diabetes, as these patients need frequent follow-up, and doing some of their visits via telemedicine can reduce their burden of travel. Hypothyroidism follow-ups, with labs completed before the visit, can be very efficient via telemedicine. Internal surveys of direct-to-patient services at my institution demonstrated a high level of patient satisfaction, with 91% of patients indicating they were satisfied overall, and 81% saying that connection with the provider matched that of an in-person visit.

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