The Arizona Telemedicine Program Blog

Imagine a mother who is juggling two children under the age of five and a full-time hourly wage job.  When her child contracts pink eye or a worsening cold or a sinus infection or asthma, she is forced to choose between giving up wages to see the primary care physician or going to the emergency department that is unable to turn her away, even if she cannot pay, after work hours.  Many choose the latter option but it is costly and risks additional illness. While retail clinics have closed some of the gap in primary care, telehealth visits have the potential to close even more of the gap.  Unfortunately, these visits are rarely covered by private payers and are rarely covered by public payers like Medicare and Medicaid.  So, unless the mother can afford $40-55, the telehealth visit, while saving time, will not be utilized.

On Feb. 25, 2015, vandals cut fiber-optic lines in the Phoenix area, shutting down Internet and phone connections throughout much of northern Arizona. The story was big enough to attract national attention. Here’s a report from CBS News:

“People across northern Arizona couldn't use the Internet, their cellphones or landlines for several hours Wednesday (February 25, 2015) after someone vandalized a fiber-optic line that brings communications to a large part of the state, officials said.

Photo credit: Angel Holtrust

Telehealth has been a big buzz word in the healthcare industry over the past couple years. A recent survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) found that 78% of physicians believe telemedicine improves access to care. Another report found 75% of surveyed patients said they would be interested in doing a telemedicine visit in lieu of an in-person medical visit.

There’s clearly momentum behind telehealth. But what many physicians may wonder is - is telemedicine worth it? How will it directly help my practice? Is it worth the initial time and investment?

In Dr. Ricky Ochoa’s view, the Affordable Care Act has had a significant impact in Arizona’s Yuma County. With an unemployment rate nearly four times that of the state – 22 percent versus 6 percent – and high rates of diabetes and heart disease, Yuma County, in southwestern Arizona, faces a critical need for access to health care.

“The point of the Affordable Care Act is to increase access to quality medical care for patients and lower costs,” said Dr. Ochoa, a 2002 graduate of the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, and medical director of Yuma Regional Medical Center’s Family Medicine Center. 

When the UA Wildcats hosted Northern Arizona University at the teams’ 2013 football season opener in Tucson, a new NAU “team member” stood on the sidelines, ready to make a bit of medical history.

VGo – a four-foot-tall telemedicine robot on wheels – was standing by, ready to assist, should any injured player show signs of concussion.

National telehealth policy and law leader Alexis Gilroy, JD, will speak at SPS 2016.

Full disclosure: I’m the co-coordinator of the conference I’m about to tell you about. But—still on the full disclosure front—I’m a cynical person who doesn’t get excited easily. I’ve been going to healthcare and telehealth conferences since 2005, so I’ve become a little jaded when it comes to listening to presentations and panels.

And yet, I’m very excited about SPS 2016.

Last year showed us that telemedicine continues to be an innovative alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar health care. The number of providers offering telemedicine services notably increased, and several states enacted laws requiring health plans to cover telemedicine. Here are four key trends that will drive the continued growth of telemedicine to transform health care in 2016.


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