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Telemedicine Offers Remedy for Rising Travel and Wait Times

May 17, 2019

Travel and wait times for health care cost patients $89 billion annually, according to an analysis by Altarum, giving new vigor to legislative arguments supporting telemedicine.

Patients travel an average of 34 minutes for health care and wait 11 minutes once they arrive at the facility, the analysis found. Health care travel and wait times exceed those for most other professional services, including the time to obtain a driver’s license or have a car repaired, Time spent traveling and waiting for health care was more than half the time spent getting care.

 “Time spent on travel and waiting for care is an underappreciated burden of the U.S. health care system,” writes Corwin Rhyan, a senior analyst for Altarum, in the report. “It results in a significant cost on patients, as individuals must forgo either leisure, work, or home activities.”

The analysis comes as lawmakers debate ways to improve health care access.  Telemedicine allows health care providers to offer clinical care from a distance but there are licensing hurdles when care crosses state lines.

‘Big Fan of Telemedicine’

Sally Pipes, president and CEO of the Pacific Research Institute, says the emerging field of telemedicine could help alleviate the long travel and wait times for health care.

“I’m a big fan of telemedicine,” said Pipes. “I think it is a way to reduce costs and get better care, particularly for seniors who don’t have ready access to transportation, and also for people who live in rural areas where they also might have a hard time getting to a doctor. This way, through telemedicine, they can contact their doctor wherever their town is, but just as importantly, have access to a wider variety of specialists.”

 Pipes says telemedicine gives patients access to the very best doctors, who are unlikely to be available to them under ordinary circumstances.

“For instance, today if you live in a small town and are diagnosed with cancer, through telemedicine you have the potential to get in touch with the very best cancer doctors, whether it be the at the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, The City of Hope, or the MD Anderson Cancer Center, and really get the very best without having to fly to New York, Houston, or Pasadena,” said Pipes.

More Competition and More Options

With advancing technology and decreasing costs of accurate, home-based medical apps, the telemedicine industry is on the cusp of major innovations which will bring better outcomes for patients, Pipes says.

“As modern technology continues to improve, the apps will get even better,” said Pipes.  “Doctors may be remote, but they can provide advice through their apps and through telemedicine to patients.

“This is only going to get better,” said Pipes. “It also means more competition and more options to getting better health care, particularly for people who are older or for people in rural areas,” said Pipes.

Calling on Congress

Pipes says lawmakers should remove regulatory and other barriers on telemedicine.

“Congress needs to step up to the plate,” said Pipes. “I think it’s a bipartisan issue, really. I think there are also a lot of members on the Democratic side too who would see telemedicine as a way to get their constituents better health care. So Congress should introduce legislation to enable telemedicine to thrive.

“I understand sometimes doctors are nervous about telemedicine or communicating by email to patients because of the threat of medical malpractice suits, but I think that Congress should step up to the plate and introduce and pass legislation allowing telemedicine to be an option to patients,” said Pipes.

Leo Pusateri (psycmeistr@fastmail.fm)writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.

Author
Leo Pusateri writes from St. Cloud, Minnesota.
psycmeistr@fastmail.fm

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