Telemedicine technologies: Real-time versus store and forward

Jul 30, 2015 / Telemedicine technology /
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When it comes to clinical telemedicine, there are two general categories that most "sharing" technologies tend to fall into: store and forward or live real-time technologies. Knowing the differences between the two, as well as their unique advantages and considerations, is essential for making the best-informed decision regarding your facility's first steps into leveraging telemedicine for clinical practice.

Through video conferencing, providers can consult with patients and other professionals in real time.Knowing the differences between real-time and store and forward technologies can have significant impacts for your practice.

Capture, store and forward: The basics

The major way in which capture, store and forward technologies differ from their real-time counterparts is that they don't involve live interaction with patient data as it is being collected. Instead, all the relevant data - which can include patient records, MRI scans, test results, X-ray photos and other essential data - is gathered together into a file and sent to the necessary professionals via a secure encrypted Internet connection. Once the practitioners receive the data, they can then study and analyze it as though they were in the clinic when it was collected.

Real-time telemedicine technologies, as you may have guessed, is more immediate. It provides remote healthcare providers with live access to the exam site, not just with video conferencing technologies but also via live streaming medical images and video. This allows for a true interactive experience between the patient and clinician, making the clinical assessments more similar to those conducted in face-to-face appointments.

"Live consultations can help practitioners render immediate, on-the-spot diagnoses or treatment suggestions."

Understanding the differences

While the difference between live real-time technology and store-and-forward versions is simple and straightforward, it can have significant implications for your practice depending on what your goals are. According to data from the Center for Connected Health Policy, store-and-forward telemedicine applications are typically used by specialty practices in fields such as radiology, ophthalmology, dermatology and others. These fields typically involve doctors and nurses relying on documented information and images, rather than a physical examination.

In contrast, real-time technology is very effective for practitioners who need to see a large number of patients, do frequent follow-up visits or need to provide immediate advice to patients who require medical attention. For example, a clinic that specializes in geriatric care can use live real-time telemedicine solutions to consult remotely with patients for regular check-ups, eliminating the need for arranging transportation to a clinic - as well as the associated cost.

The live advantage

While either choice may be sufficient for your practice, there are certain benefits that real-time telemedicine offers over store-and-forward platforms. The most significant advantage is time. Patients, even those in rural areas, no longer have to travel to see a physician. In instances where patients are consulting with specialists, live consultations can help practitioners render immediate, on-the-spot diagnoses or treatment suggestions, rather than patients having to transfer to a different facility for a second opinion or consult.

Communication is another significant benefit offered by live technology. The ability for patients and providers to interact directly can boost the level of patient understanding required, better ensuring that transitional care is completed effectively. This is especially important in geriatric cases, where treatment plans and medication schedules must be strictly monitored by transitional caregivers to avoid costly readmissions and unnecessary complications.

Another important distinction is that the reimbursement policies from private insurers vary between real-time and store-and-forward technologies. According to the CCHP, many private insurers do not reimburse for non-real-time consultations performed via telemedicine, and even Medicaid legislation varies on a state-by-state basis.

For more information on live real-time telemedicine technologies and to begin developing your own custom solution, visit www.amdtelemedicine.com.

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