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 Teleheath Opens Frontier, JAMDA Editorial

High-tech, low-cost gadgets can help caregivers cross frontiers, and a new editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Directors’ Association (JAMDA) is urging providers to take a look at new opportunities in remote telemedicine.
 
“Telehealth is gaining popularity, and three of four Americans surveyed said they would use telemedicine. However, most clinicians have not been trained in telehealth,” says Notre Dame de Namur University Professor Aung Zaw Win in JAMDA’s latest issue.
 
Telemedecine is especially attractive in rural America, Win notes. The country’s rural population is not just aging more rapidly than its urban counterparts, it’s already woefully underserved: There are about 40 fewer general practitioners per 100,000 rural Americans than for urban Americans and about 90 fewer specialists per 100,000 rural Americans than there are for urban Americans, Win says.
 
“More than half of rural Americans must travel more than 20 miles for specialty care, with an average reported distance of 60 miles,” Win says.
 
Enter smart phones and tablets, Win says: “Telehealth allows patients and doctors in isolated communities to engage in long-distance consults with experts. It might be used by a patient at a Navajo health clinic to communicate with a doctor at a larger hospital in another state, or a patient in a rural North Dakota town can get medical care from a doctor at a medical center. It is estimated that in 2012, a telehealth program saved Alaska $8.5 million in travel costs for Medicaid patients alone.”
 
Already, nearly three out of five Americans own a smart phone and about two-fifths of them own a tablet. Yet, providers are woefully behind the curve, Win says. As of 2012, fewer than 1 percent of hospitals in the United States had working tablets, he says.
 
Win is pushing at an open door with providers like Robin Hillier, however. Hillier, who represents independent owners on the board of the American Health Care Association, says that new technology is keeping people healthier longer, and she has family experience to back it up.
 
Recently, Hillier says, her in-laws had to have routine check-ins, but weren’t so bad off that they had to be hospitalized.
 
We bought them both fitness trackers and set them up on our ‘team,’” she tells Provider. “This lets us monitor their sleep, activity, and nutrition intake. If we notice something concerning, we can reach out and get them help. With today's wearable technology, you could use sensors around the home to monitor a myriad of things—medication use, toileting habits, blood pressure and pulse, probably hundreds of things.”
 
The best thing about the new gadgets is that folks young and old are already using them, so it doesn’t carry the stigma of old age that so many other products do, Hillier says.
 
“A long term care provider could establish a service whereby they monitor the devices for people in the community,” she says. “It is a great opportunity to grow your presence in the community and provide a valuable service to worried families who live away from their loved ones.”
 
Bill Myers is Provider’s senior editor. Email him at wmyers@providermagazine.com. Follow him on Twitter, @ProviderMyers.
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