Using telemedicine for spine patients: Obstacles, opportunities & outlook

Written by Megan Wood | October 09, 2015 | Print  |

The global telehealth market is expected to hit $6.5 billion by 2020, according to a Markets and Markets research report. Expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 24.2 percent, the market is driven by an aging population, increasing physician shortage, rising healthcare costs and improving telecommunication infrastructure.

Physical therapist Kosta Kokolis, co-founder of Bodhizone Physical Therapy & Wellness in New York City, shares his insight on telemedicine opportunities in spine. He specializes inKostaKokalis spinal cord, care, trauma and rehabilitation.


Question: What do you think the biggest telemedicine trends are in spinal care?


Mr. Kosta Kokolis: With the exponential growth in the use of mobile devices, laptops and tablets, patients now, more than ever, have the ability to communicate with a physician to get the answers they need in a timely manner and without making a trip to the doctor or ER.


In fact, one of the biggest trends in telemedicine and spinal care is on the “availability” side of treatment that is most commonly affected by travel and mobility. With many patients constantly traveling for business, spinal assessment and treatment can be near impossible. Likewise there are many patients who can’t leave the house or get immediate care. With telemedicine, these patients can now have access to a healthcare professional without interfering with their schedules and from the comfort of their own home.


Also, thanks to the constant advances in technology, patients can now accurately describe symptoms and the intensities of their problems, as well as utilize photos and video chat to give the practitioner a better picture of the patient’s situation.


Q: How does telemedicine in spine relate to telemedicine trends in other medical fields?


KK: Convenience: As stated above, patients that are not able to easily access healthcare professionals are able to have virtual face time with a doctor or therapist that can accurately assess the situation and offer advice on treatment.


Easily accessible information: Cloud-based storage solutions make it easier for healthcare professionals to access vital information from the patient’s medical history. The more quickly a practitioner can make an educated assessment of a patient’s condition, the quicker they can determine a proper course of action. Likewise, sharing a patient’s records is significantly easier as they can be uploaded and sent to any physician at the touch of a button.


Keeping costs down: Spinal care, including medical doctors, physical therapists and imaging can be very costly. Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, will keep costs down for spinal care and help avoid any unnecessary testing and time spent. This will also help with insurance cost management.


Round tables and other online health sites: Teladoc, SnapMD and Pager are just some sites that are becoming more popular as telemedicine takes off and technology increases. These sites can give faster answers to patients in rural areas, the elderly, traveling patients and those with emergency needs for immediate access to doctors.


To sum it all up, the faster a patient receives care for a spinal injury or problem, the faster the recovery. Telemedicine will help save time, money and unnecessary pain and suffering to the patient seeking treatment. Thanks to the advances in technology, patients can send the clinician images such as MRIs, workstation and home setups and biomechanics demonstrations, which allow physicians to make modern, virtual house calls. To give you an idea of how valuable telemedicine already is, doctors are already able to perform surgery from a remote site by a specialist in another country. These amazing capabilities are only expanding as technology continues to grow.


Q: What is the future of telemedicine? Do you think it's the future of healthcare?


KK: As technology advances and made more readily available for our growing population, telemedicine will be used on a wider scale and will improve doctor-patient relationships.


Despite the fact that many elderly patients are technologically adverse, telemedicine is actually one of the most widely used methods of geriatric medical care, due to the frequent mobility problems faced by the elderly. Likewise, there are many Baby Boomers who prefer to stay home instead of spend time in hospitals, so telemedicine is an extremely useful tool. Both of these trends are showing no signs of slowing, so it is safe to say that this will continue in the future.


Lastly, telemedicine, or telehealth, can be used for medical collaboration efforts, or for second and third opinions for a patient’s condition. I foresee this becoming a very common occurrence as physicians from around the world can discuss the best course of action taken with uncommon illnesses or ensure that mistakes are not made.
One factor that will have to change with regards to medical insurance and telemedicine is reimbursement. Although only covered by Medicaid and Medicare, reimbursement for telemedicine will have to be widely recognized and made mainstream by all insurance companies because it is ultimately cheaper than in-person care.


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