By Nadia Macias
UTEP News Service
Health care services have always been in high demand, and costly.
With the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, physician demand in the United States is expected to increase as health coverage is extended to more Americans.
However, what if there was a way to bypass busy hospitals, lines and long trips to see a doctor? Well, there is – it’s called telemedicine.
Telemedicine is the use of telecommunication devices such as computers linked to the Internet and telephones to provide medical information and services to patients. Examples include faxing or emailing medical records, talking to a physician via phone or webcam, and even telesurgery, where a doctor performs surgery on a patient without being present through robotics and cutting edge communication technology.
For the past two years, Parand Mansouri-Rad, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Business Administration’s Department of Information Decision Sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been studying telemedicine and the factors affecting its adoption in several countries, including the U.S.
Thus far, her research has led her to find that culture and information policy and security are barriers to telemedicine adoption.
“The U.S. is an excellent candidate for telemedicine – almost everyone has Internet and the people are more open-minded here about it,” she said. “The problem is all the different policies in the states.”
For example, if a practitioner wants to “virtually” serve across state lines, they must obtain a full license. If they want to serve several states, they must obtain a license in each state, which can be very expensive and time consuming. There is also the problem of trust – a patient may not trust a physician they only see over a webcam compared to one they can meet in person.
“I think it’s very interesting,” Mansouri-Rad said. “To be able to receive health care when you don’t have to ‘be there.’ You can be in another country, on another continent, and get someone’s opinion and help.”
Ever notice those giant file cabinets in your doctor’s office? EMRs, or electronic medical records, are those in electronic form. They are just another type of telemedicine that can help lower hospital and practice costs. Interestingly, last year the Texas prison system announced that they saved taxpayers $1 billion over the past 10 years by creating a statewide EMR system.
Mansouri-Rad added, “These days, telemedicine is being talked about more and more. Obama has been putting a lot into EMRs and has been stressing it a lot.”
Despite how simple some forms of telemedicine sound and how beneficial they end up being, “the adoption of telemedicine has been challenging,” said Mansouri-Rad, in part because of the barriers she has discovered.
According to a Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll in 2010, less than one in 10 American adults uses EMRs or email to contact their doctor.
Sharon Thompson, Ph.D., an associate professor in UTEP’s College of Health Sciences, agrees with Mansouri-Rad on the importance of telemedicine and its adoption in this day and age.
“The passage of Obamacare is going to exacerbate physician shortage,” she said. “Physician extenders through telemedicine is one way to address this shortage and provide care to patients, especially in underserved and rural communities.”
Although Mansouri-Rad cannot do much to change these problems right now, Thompson believes she has taken an important first step.
“Understanding what factors hinder or facilitate the adoption of this technology is of paramount importance in order for telemedicine to be diffused on larger scale,” she said.
Mansouri-Rad, who will earn her Ph.D. from UTEP in December, plans to continue her studies on telemedicine in the U.S. and other countries.
She maintains that telemedicine has a bright future and will grow increasingly important over the years: “Everyone gets sick, everyone needs to go to the doctor, and everyone needs a specialist to look at their lab results.”
The only difference is, they might be doing it over Skype next time.
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