Physicians and allied health professionals have used the phone to communicate with patients since the invention of the telephone. Medical call centers including nurse triage and advice services are employed throughout health care with millions of calls answered each year. In the past twenty years a variety of advanced telecommunications technologies have enabled clinicians to see and treat patients from a distance. Many of these applications have involved specialists such as radiologists, neurologists, mental health providers and others that provide services to patients located in another healthcare facility. Also, remote monitoring of vital signs has become an important component in helping many patients keep better control of their own health outside of the hospital.
Today, advances in technology, innovations in service delivery and the growth of online business models has brought forward new approaches to diagnosing and treating illness, supplanting the traditional office visit with a growing number of services that offer online health care consultations. These services are marketed direct to the consumer, provided as a benefit through an employer, health insurance policy or made available from established primary care practices and health systems as a service for their own patients. ATA estimates that this year over 800,000 consultations will be provided to consumers via online sites. Services are delivered using a combination of modes including synchronous (live, two-way) technologies such as web cams and telephones to asynchronous (store-and-forward) technologies such as online questionnaires and secure emails.
Such innovations have fueled a debate among regulators, medical societies, clinicians and entrepreneurs about what is a safe and what is not a safe mode of delivery. State medical boards, professional medical societies, academic studies and others have assessed the issue with a variety of opinions. This space is devoted to making available information about this issue and provides a discussion area open to all parties to express their views and suggestions including comments for regulators, professional societies and other stakeholders.These valuable discussions will help inform and guide the larger public dialogue on this critical issue in health care delivery.