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Telemedicine Networks Essential For Successful Health Care Reform

June 19, 2009

The U.S. healthcare system is in critical need of basic change to enable more equitable, effective, efficient care. Experts in various fields of medicine, public health, and industry propose that telemedicine, or information technology enhanced healthcare, must be a core component of a viable healthcare reform strategy, a view they forcefully present in a white paper published online ahead of print in Telemedicine and e-Health, a peer-reviewed journal published by Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. ( www.liebertpub.com), the official journal of the American Telemedicine Association. The white paper is available free online at www.liebertpub.com/tmj

Well-designed telemedicine systems have proven value for improving access to quality healthcare, providing effective clinical decision support and medication prescribing, promoting patient-centered care through community- and home-based resources, enhancing chronic disease management, and promoting adoption of healthy lifestyle choices and self-care, and containing cost inflation. Telemedicine offers substantial benefits that greatly exceed its cost.

The white paper, entitled “National Telemedicine Initiatives: Essential to Healthcare Reform,” presents a consensus perspective developed by a diverse group of healthcare providers, researchers, academicians, and industry representatives from across the U.S. Lead authors Rashid L. Bashshur, PhD from the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and Gary W. Shannon, PhD from the University of Kentucky (Lexington), clearly state that, “While not a panacea, telemedicine offers significant opportunities to address the issues of inequities in access to care, cost containment, and quality enhancement.”

Contributing authors include Elizabeth A. Krupinski, PhD, Jim Grigsby, PhD, Joseph C. Kvedar, MD, Ronald S. Weinstein, MD, Jay H. Sanders, MD, Karen S. Rheuban, MD, Thomas S. Nesbitt, MD, Dale C. Alverson, MD, Ronald C. Merrell, MD, Jonathan D. Linkous, A. Stewart Ferguson, PhD, Robert J. Waters, JD, Max E. Stachura, MD, David G. Ellis, MD, Nina M. Antoniotti, PhD, Barbara Johnston, MSN, Charles R. Doarn, MBA, Peter Yellowlees, MD, Steven Normandin, and Joseph Tracy

The authors encourage the continuing effort to make electronic health records (EHRs) universally available, but caution that an exclusive focus on EHRs would result in increased cost without addressing the necessary changes for effective and sustainable healthcare reform. On a broader scale, telemedicine systems will incorporate EHRs as well as a host of other technologies that enable the electronic acquisition, storage, retrieval, and exchange of information “for the purpose of promoting health, preventing disease, treating the sick, managing chronic illness, rehabilitating the disabled, and protecting public health and safety.

“Telemedicine is the common element to make reform succeed,” says Journal Co-Editor-in-Chief Ronald Merrell, MD, Professor of Surgery, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, “Telemedicine involves stunning new technologies that go well beyond just using electronic health records, which can ensure both quality care and cost savings if this technology is widely applied throughout health systems. Telemedicine applications have been tested and proven through years of research and are ready for scalable expansion to serve the entire country and make healthcare reform a reality and a success.”




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