Telemedicine and telehealth services allow access to clinical health care remotely via secure technology — think face-to-face video, email, texting, shared imaging, apps and more. Discover how this flexible approach helps patients, families and health systems when paired with clinical experts in genomic medicine.
What Are Telehealth and Telemedicine Services?
Telehealth services and telemedicine services are terms used interchangeably, but they are slightly different services. Both refer to the delivery of services within the health care system.
What is telemedicine services?
What is telehealth services?
Telemedicine services use technology for a health care provider to deliver clinical health care to a patient remotely. These “virtual services” remove the need for an in-person visit. For example, Genome Medical offers telemedicine genetic health services to individuals, such as specialized genetic counseling with one of its board-certified genetic counselors. This service is also called “telegenetics.”
Telehealth services are broad and include virtual patient education, support services or other types of patient visits. They also include remote-based communications between health care providers or virtual events/conferences held for medical education purposes. For example, Genome Medical uses telehealth services to connect our Clinical Care Coordinators with patients, as well as deliver peer-to-peer consultation about appropriate genetic test selection and challenging cases to health care providers.
Telehealth services are increasingly important in health care today. The coronavirus pandemic led many U.S. medical professionals to provide essential care to their patients via telehealth services, as outlined by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More individuals, employers and health systems seek telehealth solutions due to higher flexibility and efficiency, but also because in-person options may not be available in some areas. To meet these needs, Genome Medical’s clinical team is available nationwide to offer genetic health services and support by telehealth.
Three Major Ways Telehealth Services Are Delivered
Telehealth services are typically delivered in one of three categories, depending on the need and health system:
- Real-Time Interaction: In this method, health care providers interact live with patients using secure video conferencing, chat, text or phone calls. Interaction in real time allows for two-way, face-to-face conversations with immediate responses. Genome Medical offers telegenetics services by video and phone using real-time interaction.
- Remote Monitoring: In this method, also called “remote patient monitoring,” health care providers can monitor a patient at another location, such as at home after being discharged from the hospital. Technologies include electronic devices that collect and share medical data. Remote monitoring also means patients can monitor their own health and share that medical data with their health care provider.
Store-and-Forward: In this method, medical information and data are shared between health care providers or institutions in different locations to enhance patient care. For example, medical x-rays, MRI scans or photographs can be sent to remote medical specialists about a patient to help diagnose and treat that individual.
What Are Benefits of Using Telemedicine Specialty Services?
Benefits to Patients
- Improved access to medical care, such as to genetic medical specialists not available in some areas
- More convenient and takes less time, since no travel is needed to attend appointments
- Minimizes health risks to/from others, as no time spent in a health care provider’s or hospital’s waiting room
These are overall benefits to patients, but some benefits of telehealth are specific to the coronavirus pandemic and other public health issues.
Benefits to Medical Providers
- Better access to patients who need specialist or routine care, filling gaps where it is not available and addressing disparities
- Better access to consultation with medical specialists, allowing collaboration between health care providers when specialists are not locally or readily available
- Improved patient involvement and care, as remote patient monitoring, education and collaboration with a distant site can facilitate improved patient outcomes
More efficient, due to improved scheduling practices and fewer patient no-shows. Genome Medical has a nationwide team of medical genetics providers to serve as trusted referral partners and expert advisors in the field of genomics. Our genetic services are 100% virtual through a secure telegenetics platform.
Benefits to Hospitals and Health Systems
- Expanded reach to deliver health care, particularly for rural areas where some medical specialists may not be available
- Improved patient outcomes, particularly for outpatient care (e.g., chronic care, behavioral health)
- Higher patient satisfaction as compared to in-person visits, demonstrated by patient surveys following telehealth visits
- Lower costs, since specialist telehealth consultations likely result in less time spent in the emergency department
Genome Medical offers genomic expertise for health care and health systems nationwide with its full-service, on-demand network of clinical genetic specialists.
What Are Limitations of Using Telemedicine Specialty Services?
Not all medical visits are possible using telemedicine. An assessment requiring a detailed physical examination, a medical procedure needing highly specialized equipment (like an MRI scanner), some medical tests, or intensive care monitoring would need an in-person visit. Additionally, some medical facilities are challenged to integrate telehealth technologies with their existing systems. Specialists in genomic medicine, such as those at Genome Medical, operate a full-service telemedicine practice. As such, the team knows the limitations of telegenetics and are well positioned to deliver appropriate genetic health services in this way.
Examples of Ways to Use Telemedicine Services
Telemedicine services have many applications today. Below are a few ways that telehealth and telemedicine services are being used.
Provide Health and Medical Services to Rural Areas
In rural areas, there is often a scarcity of medical specialists and primary care providers to serve the population. Genome Medical uses telegenetics services to bridge these gaps, such as reaching rural patients through its partnership with Shriners Hospitals for Children. Through this, Genome Medical has created the capacity to deliver care from medical genetics specialists to children at 22 hospitals and outpatient locations in North America, as well as an international network of outreach clinics.
Manage Patient Backlog / Overflow for Health Systems and Hospitals
Rising patient volumes and a limited number of medical specialists often results in long wait times for appointments. Using telemedicine services is a way for health systems and hospitals to manage backlogs by remotely accessing specialists who are not available locally. Genome Medical partners with hospitals and health systems, such as Kaiser Permanente Northwest, to increase the number of patients who have quick access to genetic counseling services. This reduces patient volumes, simultaneously addressing patient backlogs and mounting wait times.
Easy Integration into Patients' Continuing Care
Telemedicine allows for improved continuing care by seamlessly returning specialized medical assessments and education to a patient’s primary health care provider. Genome Medical has several projects that utilize telegenetics to increase a person’s access to individualized genomic medicine and education. For example, a partnership with Renown Health ensures that participants in the Healthy Nevada Project have ready access to a genetic counselor if they are identified as being at risk for certain genetic conditions.
In all telegenetics services, Genome Medical’s medical specialists use its Genome Care Delivery platform to assess and navigate a patient’s genetic health needs in real-time. Patients come away with a personalized clinical action plan to guide them and their primary care provider in future health care decisions.
FAQs About Telehealth Services
Does insurance pay for telehealth services?
Insurance companies vary, but many pay for certain telehealth services, and this coverage is trending upward. Particularly during the coronavirus outbreak, private and government health insurers (such as Medicare) expanded coverage for certain telehealth services. They recognized that telehealth technologies can create access to health care for patients who might not otherwise receive it. Check with your insurance company about specific coverage for telehealth services in your plan.
Is a telehealth medical appointment safe?
Telemedicine and telehealth services are typically offered using secured, HIPAA-compliant technologies so privacy and security can be maintained. In some ways, telehealth medical appointments can be safer than in-person appointments because there is no physical exposure to other patients or health care providers at a hospital or clinic.
Do I need special equipment for a telehealth appointment?
For a telehealth appointment, you need a computer, phone or tablet with a microphone and video camera capability. In some cases, a particular online program (such as Zoom) is used to conduct the appointment. Detailed instructions and technical support are available to ensure a no-hassle appointment.
Interested in a telemedicine appointment with a genetic counselor?
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If you are part of a system seeking to improve access to genetic health services during this challenging time, we can help. Please get in touch to learn more.
Deepti Babu, MS, CGC is a certified genetic counselor and founder of Integrity Content Consulting. She brings 20+ years of clinical expertise to her writing and editing about genetics, genomics, and their impact on health.