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In Health Care Today, It's Electronic All the Way
Date:10/3/2009

eonatal care, surgery and psychotherapists
  • Electronic scales for heart patients that trigger an alert to a nurse if the patient's weight increases dramatically
  • "One of the best early indicators for impending hospitalization for patients with congestive heart failure is an increase in body weight," said Dr. Lee H. Schwamm, vice chairman of the neurology department and director of TeleStroke & Acute Stroke Services at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School.

    Schwamm describes such examples of telemedicine as "low-hanging fruit," easily done to great advantage for both the patient and the doctors involved.

    Telemedicine could be a boon to preventative medicine, Mitchell and Schwamm said, giving doctors access to detailed data that would allow them to diagnose problems early. For example, data from the scales or the blood pressure cuff could give doctors a chance to get someone in for treatment before a heart attack or stroke occurs.

    "It would identify for us when a patient should be seen rather than relying on the patient for that judgment," Schwamm said. "In my mind, that's the real promise."

    Telemedicine also could provide tremendous cost savings. People might not have to take time off from work and drive to see their doctor to have a question or concern addressed. And people with serious illnesses might not have to travel hundreds or thousands of miles for a consultant's opinion. "It's expensive and inefficient to move people around when many visits require minimal care," Schwamm said.

    Some impediments must be overcome, however. Insurance companies have not ironed out how a doctor should be compensated for different types of telemedical service. "That takes time. That takes expertise," Mitchell said. "There should be some level of compensation for making that happen."

    And there are administrative barriers, too, S
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