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Advantages of telehealth less clear after long-term illness study

Telehealth does not offer significantly different improvements in quality of life for patients with long-term conditions in comparison to those treated in a traditional care setting, according to a recent study by medical information researcher BMJ Group.. The data of 759 of the study’s original 3,230 subjects was considered in the final results. Both short and long-term measurements of patients’ physical and mental capabilities failed to meet the “minimal clinically important differences” to support the benefits of either telehealth or traditional care over the other method. That said, telehealth is becoming more popular as a choice in care delivery.

Patients agree, nearly unanimously, that they prefer telehealth over a face-to-face doctor visit if it reduces their bill. More than 1,700 people responded to a survey and 98% indicated their interest in telehealth as a cost-saver. The majority of those surveyed also indicated that they would prefer some in-person interaction and consultation with their physicians.

Telehealth services are receiving an increased amount of reimbursement payments, allowing more care facilities to explore adopting telehealth technologies. More private payers and states’ Medicaid programs are offering reimbursements for telehealth since Medicare broadened its list of reimbursement-eligible telehealth services. This benefits doctors who treat patients in rural areas.

The Alaska Federal Health Care Access Network (AFHCAN), the state’s largest telehealth project, is responsible for more than 33,000 telemedicine visits yearly and is one example of the convenience provided by telehealth-enabled practices. AFHCAN has reduced the wait time for specialist visits to less than four hours for 60% of patients. In Boston, the average wait for a specialist visit is over 40 days. Telehealth visits can help accommodate the travel constraints posed by Alaskan winters.

Telehealth can also make patients more interactive in their care, as one diabetes app aims to prove. The iPhone app interacts directly with a patient’s glucometer, reading all their data in a single swipe. The app encourages patients to interact with other patients by allowing them to tweet directly from the app’s platform. It also offers iTunes credits to patients as a reward for reporting their data.

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