By Benita M. Dodd
Money is tight and physicians are in short supply in many Georgia counties, so innovation and ingenuity are the keys in dealing with health coverage mandates required under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act commonly referred to as ObamaCare. In January, State Public Health Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald announced that she plans to roll out “telemedicine” carts in public health centers across the state. These centers already are wired for teleconferencing between physicians and patients, many of whom are in rural areas with no or limited access to the specialists congregating in urban areas. Adding cameras, computers and medical equipment would allow real-time, long-distance consultations and diagnoses.
That’s a good start, but Georgia can do so much more. Telemedicine is destined to be far more than a link between doctors and rural patients. It can facilitate and promote the practice of telemedicine in urban areas as well. Physicians are few and far between and the increasing number of covered individuals and medical mandates mean even more patients in general. Patients may be too ill or elderly to visit the doctor’s office. A mother may be unable to find child care for her doctor’s visit.
What if there was a way to take the physician to the patient without the time-consuming trip that takes the doctor out of his office and reduces his productivity? Telemedicine provides that opportunity, increasing efficiency in the practice of medicine while providing a cost-effective and mutually beneficial solution to both parties.
Some doctors’ offices already take advantage of this solution. One example is Atlanta-based physician Jeffrey Grossman’s group practice, which focuses on spinal injuries and pain management and where telemedicine is a compassionate alternative to patients’ painful, time-consuming trips to his office for follow-up visits.
Telemedicine does more than provide a creative physician-patient relationship:
- Georgia’s research universities have an opportunity for trailblazing research and development of innovative equipment to advance telehealth
- A burgeoning telehealth industry can bring investors and jobs to Georgia
- Medicaid and health-care costs in general are taking a toll on taxpayers and the state budget; this is an opportunity to do more with less.
- Telemedicine can create jobs in Georgia, establishing a new specialty in the health-care profession that merges medical training with IT training.
Clearly, the widespread implementation of telemedicine in the metro area holds the promise of innovation, economic opportunity and improved access to physicians for rural areas. Grossman frets that Georgia will fall behind the nation unless physicians are able to take full advantage of this “tractor” of health care. He’s right: In the marketplace of ideas, this free-market solution deserves traction from policy-makers.
Benita Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, state-focused think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
©Georgia Public Policy Foundation (February 8, 2013). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.