Frequently Asked Questions
Just what does “telemedicine” mean?
The basic definition of “telemedicine” used by Texas Tech and many other health professionals is the delivery of actual patient health care over a videoconferencing or telecommunications system. The best philosophy and approach to telemedicine is that the same standards of care and protocols applicable to more traditional forms of medicine exist with telemedicine. The physician-patient relationship and interaction are the same. The process should be the same as if the patient were in the room with the doctor. You also hear terms like telehealth and e-health. Telemedicine is actually a subset of those terms. E-health is the broad category of health merged with electronics or technology in some manner. Telehealth is a more specific category, which encompasses health care and education. And of course, the narrower definition of telemedicine which is the delivery of direct medical care with technology.
How does telemedicine work?
Most telemedicine occurs over specialized videoconferencing equipment with special medical peripheral equipment (EKG, stethoscope, otoscope, special exam cameras) attached to the system. The remote site where the patient is located and the base site physician are most commonly linked together with special high-speed telephone lines or satellite. The system is completely interactive meaning that both parties can talk back and forth, carrying on a live, interactive conversation as if they were in the same room face-to-face.Newer telemedicine equipment works in a similar manner, however, the foundation for the system is a desktop computer with a special video card. The emergence of computer based telemedicine systems also allows for digital images to be stored and sent to a physician at a later time. This equipment is also less costly.
Is it the same as going to the doctor’s office?
In many cases yes. Basically, a physician can see and hear almost anything over the system that they would see or hear in their office in the presence of the patient. The physician does lose the ability to feel and touch the patient, however, most physicians quickly adapt by letting the remote provider with the patient in many cases a nurse touch and feel at the direction of the physician. Most physicians agree that any limitations created by the separation of doctor and patient are more than outweighed by the benefits of providing the distant patient with more immediate access to quality health care.
What about confidentiality of the telemedicine examination?
The same reasonable and customary standards of confidentiality applied to patients and health care should are applied by Texas Tech to telemedicine examinations. TTUHSC adheres to strict patient confidentiality measures and complies with the requirements for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Telemedicine networks, such as Texas Tech's, are generally closed networks using dedicated and secure telecommunication connections. Industry standard security systems are utilized. Viewing by unauthorized persons should not be a possibility without improper and illegal tampering. Appropriate technical personnel may view telemedicine examinations as necessary to conduct the electronic conference and provide for technical integrity.
What about laws, licensing, and malpractice issues?
There are few laws specific to telemedicine, however laws and rules pertaining to the practice of medicine will also apply to telemedicine. The key is to not let the technology alter the manner in which the physician practices. Certainly, the introduction of technical equipment into the equation offers the remote possibility of impacting the physician’s abilities in light of potential technical problems or visual clarity issues. The physician is advised to not take chances or make assumptions because of the technology. Rather, refer the patient for an in-person visit or to seek care elsewhere. Finally, the issue of licensing varies from state to state. Most states’ policy is that the practice of medicine transpires where the patient is located. Therefore, if a patient is seen in another state, the physician should be licensed to practice medicine in that state. For more information on Telemedicine Law check out the Legal Resources on the links page.