A new era has dawned in the realm of health care: the age of telemedicine. With studies showing treatment outcomes comparable to standard-care paradigms and a high degree of patient satisfaction, telemedicine (also known as telehealth) provides online medical consultations, online diagnosis and treatment, remote monitoring of chronic patients and the elderly, access to health services from anywhere at any time, electronic prescriptions, financial savings, time savings, and other advantages.
The foundations driving this latest health-care delivery model are technological innovation, the ubiquity of mobile devices, increasing patient demand for services at a click, and the changing face of health care as it shifts from fee-for-service plans to a patient-centered, value-based reimbursement paradigm.
With telemedicine listed as one of four primary goals in the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan for 2015-2020, it is incumbent upon health-care facilities wishing to remain current or become industry leaders to learn about the operational, financial, and technological requirements for designing a telemedicine space, as well as ethical and legal issues in providing telehealth services.
While basic web-based communications can be achieved with a camera and microphone, telemedicine solutions for hospitals, clinics, and physicians require a much more powerful set of technological tools. In addition, minimal technical requirements issued by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) must be met while also adhering to the American Medical Association’s stipulation that the same standards of care must be maintained whether a patient is seeing a doctor in person or via telemedicine.
Telemedicine Space Checklist
To design a telemedicine space for your medical practice or health-care facility, consider these recommendations published by the Health Facilities Management magazine:
* Connection to an Internet service provider
* Wired versus wireless network connections
* Web-based system that meets HIPAA requirements
* Integrated services digital network (ISDN) lines
* Audiovisual (A/V) equipment that includes: computers, monitors, projector screens, microphones, headsets
* A/V equipment powered by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) connected to critical power
* Minimum bandwidth requirement for high-definition video teleconferencing
* Telemedicine room located in a quiet area away from loud external noises
* Room large enough to position audiovisual equipment for adequate view of patients and staff
* Carpet or rubber flooring for sound control
* Sound isolation and speech privacy
* Video backdrop free of clutter and distractions
* Light neutral color or powder blue background
* Lighting that does not create shadows or wash out video images
* Telephone for troubleshooting and backup communication
* Protection against power supply failures or failures of a single link
* Specific considerations such as camera placement at eye level and at a distance from subject that mirrors an in-person meeting; microphone placement for clearest speech communication and minimal echo and noise (i.e., a headset microphone versus a table-mounted or ceiling-mounted microphone)
Health-care facilities and professionals ready to jump on the telemedicine bandwagon should also explore the possibilities of advanced telemedicine services, such as home monitoring, telestroke, eICU, and the growing number of remote patient monitoring devices geared toward treating rural and homebound patients. These include: vital signs monitors, remote electrocardiography (ECG) equipment, transportable exam stations, rolling suitcases with a laptop, stethoscope, otoscope, ultrasound probe, and other equipment.