The growing popularity of telemedicine may still be out of reach to some, but Pennsylvania is trying to close that gap. Governor Tom Corbett has announced that the state will increase patients' access to specialist care through telemedicine by expanding coverage for people covered by the Medical Assistance Program.
"How this will work is using technology like interactive audio and video equipment, doctors and patients will be able to connect from remote locations," said Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
This allows for real-time communication when it's not easy or possible for a patient to see a specialist. In order to make this possible the following changes have been made to the department's Medical Assistance Program:
- Establish the use of real-time interactive technology, such as audio and video equipment as a method of delivering consultation services;
- Consultations can now occur between all physician specialists like cardiologists, obstetricians or neurologists;
- Remove the requirement that telemedicine consultations can only be performed with participation from the referring physician.
Some 2.1 million Pennsylvanians are covered by the Medical Assistance Program.
Telemedicine is one of the fastest-growing trends in medicine nationally, and officials with the Corbett Administration said the technology leads to better results for patients. The use of telemedicine had previously been limited to specific specialist consultations.
"We believe that this will improve a person's ability to receive quality care," said Miller, "especially those who are unable to travel to a physician to receive diagnosis or treatment."
The ultimate goal is to allow patients to communicate with doctors from their own home, but many in rural areas still don't have access to needed technology. For those people, Miller suggested working with their medical provider to find a friend, library, county assistance office where the technology can be utilized.
The expanded telemedicine coverage was effective as of May 23, 2012.