Healthcare IT helps doctors give personal touch from afar
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Healthcare IT helps doctors give personal touch from afar

In America, a time of more widespread medical information technology implementation is almost upon us. Initiatives to make electronic health records an aspect of healthcare facilities throughout the country is coming to a head, as the deadline to have these systems deployed is fast approaching. However, there's another important healthcare IT solution that has been receiving more focus lately, and that's telemedicine.

With the help of telemedical technologies, physicians gain abilities that would have been difficult to imagine just a few short years ago. By leveraging the right tools, doctors can conference with their patients from afar, and these options are increasingly being recognized as keys to boosting patient care. After all, one of the most critical uses for these IT solutions is likely to be in bettering the care of less mobile patients, as well as expanding hospitals' abilities to respond in crises.

Remote care improves results
NPR recently explained that among the people who will reap the most benefits from telemedicine are veterans. In the case of 82-year-old Korean War veteran Howard Lincoln, for example, living in Alaska can pose challenges to quickly gaining access to care. The nearest Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital is hundreds of miles away, and the trip would involve at least two plane rides. In poor weather, it could take a whole day to reach the healthcare organization by snowmobile or dog sled. In short, if Lincoln were to have a medical emergency, it's possible his location could keep him from seeing a physician in time.

Susan Yeager, director of the VA healthcare system for Alaska, pointed out to the source that travel can also be difficult for older veterans for a number of reasons, including that they simply may not be feeling well enough to make lengthy trips. Additionally, the cost of traveling can be exorbitant, and this poses a barrier to these individuals receiving the care they need. However, Yeager noted that with telemedicine, there are workarounds.

NPR noted that for people living in remote areas, it can be easier to get to a local clinic, which can be set up with all the tools needed to support remote appointments. In hundreds of these practices in Alaska, rooms are equipped with everything from high-resolution cameras to stethoscopes and ultrasounds, all of which are connected to allow doctors at hospitals to interact in real time with patients, while reducing the time and cost burdens they need to endure.

But older patients aren't the only ones who receive an advantage. Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton, Alberta, has also implemented these healthcare IT solutions for better results. For instance, when a massive snowstorm hit, Kimberly Bigoraj wasn't able to safely bring her son, Braydon, to the hospital to receive a follow-up appointment for a surgery the boy had received. Instead, she drove to a closer medical practice to do the meeting remotely. The doctor determined how Braydon was doing and was able to prescribe a new course of treatment to help his wounds heal. Without the IT solutions, Braydon would have had to wait for a chance to reschedule.

The organization noted that in 2012, its providers hosted video conferences with 650 patients, 33 percent more than in 2011.

It may seem daunting at first to implement emerging technology in the medical system, but the benefits of doing so can be significant. When healthcare providers make IT planning a priority, they improve their ability to supply consistently exceptional care. Not only can this improve the practice's bottom lines, but it also boosts patients' well-being.