Why telemedicine is natural for 'next generation' of docs

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Telemedicine offers a way to ease the physician shortage and it's a natural method of communication for a new generation of doctors, Stanford medical student Akhilesh Pathipati writes this week in The Sacramento Bee.

"Students currently in the medical education pipeline started using smartphones and Skype in high school. The same can be said for many patients. Telemedicine can translate that familiarity with communications technology into a meaningful doctor-patient relationship," Pathipati says.

Various studies have found that telemedicine works--especially for visual specialties such as dermatology--Pathipati writes, and patients report high levels of satisfaction with the practice.

What's more, he says, issues that have been hindering the adoption of telemedicine, such as physician reimbursement, licensing and credentialing, can be worked out though federal policy and state agreements. Rather than efforts to increase the number of available doctors, telemedicine can make more efficient use of physicians' time and thus increase their capacity to treat more patients.

A bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to establish a federal definition of telehealth that would clear up the mish-mash of state laws that hinder adoption.

"The time is right for telemedicine expansion--there is both a need and an opportunity. Straightforward reforms that standardize policy have the potential to make a big impact," Pathipati says.

The shortage of physicians in rural areas along with expanded telecommunications capabilities are creating a booming market for telemedicine services, according to Research and Markets. It projects a 18.5 percent growth rate in the market through 2018.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been leading the way with expanded use of telemedicine in the U.S. Despite many success stories, some studies have failed to show that it is more cost-effective or produces a better quality of life for patients.

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