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Which Clinical Specialties Use Telehealth?

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | April 5, 2019 |
Michael Greiwe, MD



In 2017, mHealth Intelligence published a bold article stating, “71% of healthcare providers use telehealth.” They were reporting on a new HIMSS Analytics study showing a wide spike in telemedicine usage in both ambulatory and inpatient settings. This jump occurred in the past three years, and the study indicated rapid growth particularly from 2014 at 54% usage nationally to 71% by 2017.

This is despite the fact that Congress has been slow to remove the barriers to telehealth reimbursement and licensure. The HIMSS study pointed out that in past years, telemedicine adoption has remained steady at a growth rate of around 3%. The biggest spike in decades occurred between 2016 and 2017.

With these trends suggesting that telehealth adoption is now accelerating, what types of practices are using these tools? Are doctors in smaller practices considering what their big health system competitors have been offering for years? What are the clinical specialties currently using telehealth?

AMA Tracks Telehealth Usage Nationally

“However, with the move toward value versus volume, population health and more personalized care delivery, incorporating telemedicine solutions and services can offer benefits to physicians and patients not previously seen in healthcare.”
mHealth Intelligence

The American Medical Association (AMA) has also been paying close attention to telehealth and has endorsed these tools for more widespread use. They recently published their own national study on how telemedicine is used today and which medical specialties are using it. Not surprisingly, they found that smaller and independent practices are less likely to seek out telehealth for their patients, despite increasing utilization trends showing their customers would use these tools.

The AMA study showed that one of the earliest adopters of telehealth, radiology, remain at the forefront of using store and forward telemedicine. These asynchronous models allow clinical consultations between specialists and remote primary care or ER doctors, particularly in rural settings.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) says, Teleradiology has proved to be a valuable tool in providing access to timely, quality radiologic interpretations.” Teleradiology has been an effective method of outsourcing on call for rural hospitals; Applied Radiology suggests the practice is both widespread and widely accepted.


Which clinical specialties use telehealth?


Certainly, the digitization of radiological images happened around the turn of the century, but what is chiefly different today is that many of these images are now reviewed by a remote clinician using HIPAA- compliant and secure telehealth technology to transmit the data. It’s no wonder the AMA study cited teleradiology as the number one application for telehealth technology in the U.S. today. But what are some of the other types of clinical specialties using telehealth?

  • Mental Health
    The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that a growing number of psychologists are seeing patients through the use of telehealth technologies. They point out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been using telehealth in this way for more than 20 years. Given that rural areas have been hard hit by the opioid crisis and that they have both the highest rates of suicide and the fewest numbers of mental health resources, telemedicine allows treatment where it’s needed the most.
  • Pediatrics
    Telemedicine has provided needed support for stressed parents with a middle of the night illness for their child. Traditionally the hospital ER has born the brunt of these sudden crises, but today, telemedicine can eliminate an unnecessary and costly trip to a local hospital. With studies indicating increasing shortages of pediatricians and other specialties in the future, telehealth tools extend care into rural settings to improve the quality of life and health in vulnerable communities.
  • Orthopedics
    Orthopedic surgeons now use telehealth technology to cut down on trips to a clinical office. Routine post-up wound checks or providing a consulting on a fit for a postoperative leg brace can all be handled by the virtual visit. Telehealth is being used today by surgeons, for sports medicine, and workers compensation. OrthoLive partnered with the world’s largest orthopedic community to offer virtual visits from an on-call orthopedic network for routine treatment.
  • OB/GYN
    Making a trip to your doctor for a routine visit when you’re pregnant or experiencing painful gynecological problems can be challenging. For patients with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or postpartum depression, telemedicine can reduce the frequency of on-site trips while improving the frequency of patient monitoring. It can increase visits during high-touch postoperative care. But it’s not just hospitals and medical practices offering these services; in 2017 Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia offered a maternity-focused telehealth service line. No matter the application, it’s clear that telehealth allows the ob/gyn to keep closer tabs on the patient while increasing the convenience of care delivery.
  • Urgent Care
    In some regions, even urgent cares offer a wait time of up to an hour. These visits encompass the often-unexpected injury or illness, and sometimes transportation or childcare can make the trip a hardship. That’s where telehealth can offer a wider range of options for both the patient and their care providers. Clinicians’ benefit from higher patient volumes, which increase the bottom line. Patients benefit from the virtual house call where the doctor comes to them to provide care.

While these are just a few examples, telehealth is being used today in specialty practices from cardiology to pain management.

HIMSS Says Hub-and-Spoke Telemedicine Most Popular

"Whether free-standing practice, urban or rural hospital, academic medical center or critical access facility, healthcare organizations are finding new and creative ways to leverage telemedicine to provide new services and further engage with patients."
Brendan FitzGerald, Director of Research, HIMSS Analytics

The HIMSS Analytics study suggested that hub-and-spoke models for telehealth are the most popular today. In these models, the telehealth hub supplies audio and visual from a single site and patients or other providers’ dial-in. Nearly 60% of the telehealth models in use today leverage this framework. E-visits, such as the type of service offered by OrthoLive, make up nearly 30% of all telehealth models used today. The remaining percentage lies in remote patient monitoring or other types of wearable devices.

OrthoLive for Telehealth

OrthoLive offers the orthopedic provider in any clinical setting an easy way to capitalize on telehealth technology for their patients. We know that 80% of all orthopedic injuries can be diagnosed via telehealth technology. That’s just one of the applications for our service for the busy orthopedic provider. Contact us to find out how to join the growing telemedicine provider network.

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Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", buy-in, future state, best practices

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