Telemedicine in Arizona

You’re probably familiar with the term telemedicine, but even if you’re not – you will be soon enough. It is essentially the ability to use technology to connect doctors and patients and provide health care from a distance. Telemedicine is growing fast in every corner of our country including Arizona. A recent article on talks about the rich history of telemedicine in our state. Another recent report in the Sonora News focused on telemedicine’s potential role in rural and underserved communities.

With that in mind – Gigi Sorenson, RN, MSN Director of Telehealth Services for Northern Arizona Healthcare, wrote the following blog for us.

The topic of telemedicine has been a hot one for the past few years. Even the World Health Organization now looks at the effect that it can have on outcomes in low and middle-income countries. In February, President Obama proposed a budget that included support for Medicare Advantage organizations utilizing telehealth….marking the first time that any White House administration has included specific telehealth improvements in its proposed budget. Arizona has enacted Parity legislation to support the use of telemedicine and is working toward expanding that act.

In Arizona, our communities are a mixed bag of rural and metropolitan with a diverse ethnic and cultural population, which adds another layer of challenges that must be considered to appropriately implement telemedicine in our state. But the benefits of using telemedicine are hard to deny. The American Telemedicine Association shared a paper on research outcomes titled Telemedicine’s Impact on Healthcare Cost and Quality which finds:

Most of the peer-reviewed research about the cost effectiveness of telemedicine that is based on large sample sizes and follow sound scientific rigor are relatively new, many emerging in the past two years. These studies are consistent in finding that telemedicine saves the patients, providers and payers money when compared with traditional approaches to providing care. … Scientific studies in this area indicate that the use of telemedicine for such applications as monitoring of chronic care patients or allowing specialists to provide care to patients over a large region care have resulted in significantly improved care … Patient satisfaction with the use of telemedicine to access care and the use of telecommunications technologies to connect with specialists and other health care providers in order to meet unmet medical needs has consistently been very high …

Questions about the quality, accessibility, cost, and acceptability of telemedicine services are being evaluated, and policymakers, consumers, and providers want answers. Patients and their families want and need improved access to care not only by specialists but primary care providers. Consistent, quality care delivery is difficult to obtain in some parts of our state due to geographical challenges, lack of providers, financial constraints.

There are also a number of reasons for providers to adopt telehealth such as the ability to attract new patients, stop the loss of patients to retail clinics or through no show rates, add new services and work-life balance of providers.

And all parties, including the payers, benefit from easy access of convenient care, fewer hospital readmissions, increased satisfaction and engagement, and improved outcomes.

Though a comprehensive, hub and spoke site model, Northern Arizona Healthcare has developed a telehealth program to meet the needs of patients and providers on many levels. All areas are designed to improve access, decrease cost, and improve patient and provider satisfaction. The programs are all designed on evidence based practice for high quality outcomes.

Let us know what you think about the role telemedicine can play in Arizona’s health future. Do you see it playing a small part or do you think it could be a game changer that could help us one day reach our goal of making Arizona the Healthiest State in the Nation! By the way…. you can read more from Gigi about NAH Telehealth Services here.

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