According to American Telemedicine Association research, the telemedicine industry has expanded by 24 percent nationally since 2012. Going to the doctor's office for diagnosis of a minor ailment may soon become a thing of the past.
CentraCare Health recently unveiled its eClinic telemedicine service provided by the St. Cloud VA Health Care System and HealthPartners, that helps diagnose and treat patients via the Internet. Doctors are legally allowed to prescribe medications through the Internet. However, providers stress that telehealth services aren't supposed to be used in emergency cases.
On its website, CentraCare lists the conditions it will treat via the Internet. Among the things CentraCare will treat with its eClinic include the flu, colds, allergies and pink eye. If the eClinic service isn't able to treat a patient, CentraCare refunds the patient's money and recommends the patient see a provider in person. "There are carefully created protocols in the system that help decipher a patient's symptoms to safely treat online", said Dr. Darin Willardsen, a CentraCare eClinic provider.
Similar to the newly launched eClinic, VA hospitals and clinics use a program called My HealtheVet. It links patients with providers virtually and distributes a diagnosis through email. They also use a Skype-like program for patients to see specialists in other cities.
"Telehealth made significant strides in last few years although it's still not available to the entire health care system, while it can save time and money and help keep people healthy and out of the hospital " said Mark Schoenbaum of the Minnesota Department of Health.