Telemedicine has been around for over a century and continues to play an important role in our healthcare system. Now, more than ever due to many people around the world being encouraged to stay at home, telemedicine has become one of the primary ways for physicians to communicate with their patients in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But what is telemedicine, exactly? While many types of patients need to be physically seen by a doctor to obtain a diagnosis or be treated, often routine questions or check-ups can be completed by video conference, pictures sent through secure messages, phone conversations, or even texts.
What is Telemedicine?
In 1879 an article in the Lancet discussed the idea of using the telephone to reduce unnecessary medical office visits. In 1925, a magazine entitled Science and Invention told a story of a doctor diagnosing a patient by radio, and even further discussed the idea of one day being able to have a patient consult through video conference. It’s incredible to think that the idea of telemedicine has been around for so long, to make healthcare easier for both healthcare providers and patients. Throughout the years people have been discussing routine problems with nurses or doctors over the phone and debating if it’s necessary to come in to be seen at the office. If those with chronic disease or even a terminal disease can manage from home and still get the medical care and attention they need, most people feel more comfortable being able to do so. About 75% of healthcare expenditures are from the 100 million Americans who have chronic disease.
The American Medical Association (AMA) conducted a study in 2016 to assess physician’s motivations for using telehealth. This study showed an increase in physician usage from 14% in 2016 to 28% in 2019. While still recognizing that there are many barriers to telehealth, such as being reimbursed by insurance, interstate licensure challenges, legal and regulatory issues, and concerns for security and privacy, the AMA continues to provide resources for health care providers who wish to implement telemedicine and update their policies to work with these barriers.
Genetic Counseling & Telemedicine
As the demand for genetic counseling services increases across the nation, the utilization of telemedicine is becoming more common to allow expanded access to genetic services for a variety of patients. Many clinics who are unable to physically have a genetic counselor present to provide care to their patients are utilizing telemedicine. One study from the Journal of Genetic Counseling showed that medical institutions were the most common program setting that utilizes telemedicine for genetic services, and that prenatal and cancer genetic services were the most common services provided through telemedicine.
Especially during this time of the spread of COVID-19, telemedicine and genetic counseling is becoming a priority. The National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) has been working to provide patients with better access to genetic counselors during this time, but hopefully also for the future. The largest barrier for genetic counseling and telemedicine is reimbursement for services. Due to the spread of COVID-19, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services has relaxed their telemedicine and licensure regulations to help reduce the spread of the virus. Unfortunately, this does not cover access to genetic counselors. NSGC is working with Congress to allow all patients access to genetic counselors through the use of telemedicine.
Genetic testing can be a huge component in the healthcare of patients, as it can provide options during pregnancy, access to clinic trials in cancer treatment, and information for family members, only to name a few. Hopefully this will further allow access to genetic counselors not just during this time but in the future.
How Telemedicine Can Help You
Advanced Tele-Genetic Counseling is a telemedicine company that allows genetic counselors to access patients that would otherwise not be able to see a genetic counselor. If you are interested in speaking with a genetic counselor, please contact us to set up an appointment.