The volume of telemedicine visits is growing at a staggering pace, and they seem to have nowhere to go but up. In fact, a study released by Deloitte last August predicted that there would be 75 million virtual visits in 2014 and that there was room for 300 million visits a year going forward.
These telemedicine visits are generating a flood of medical data, some in familiar text formats and some in voice and video form. But since the entire encounter takes place outside of any EMR environment, huge volumes of such data are being left on the table.
Given the growing importance of telemedicine, the time has come for telemedicine providers to begin integrating virtual visit results into EMRs. This might involve adopting specialized EMRs designed to capture video and voice, or EMR vendors might go with the times and develop ways of categorizing and integrating the full spectrum of telemedical contacts.
And as virtual visit data becomes increasingly important, providers and health plans will begin to demand that they get copies of telemedical encounter data. It may not be clear yet how a provider or payer can effectively leverage video or voice content, which they’ve never had to do before, but if enough care is taking place in virtual environments they’ll have to figure out how to do so.
Ultimately, both enterprise and ambulatory EMRs will include technology allowing providers to search video, voice and text records from virtual consults. These newest-gen EMRs may include software which can identify critical words spoken during a telemedical visit, such as “pain,” or “chest” which could be correlated with specific conditions.
It may be years before data gathered during virtual visits will stand on equal footing with traditional text-based EMR data and digital laboratory results. As things stand today, telemedicine consults are used as a cheaper form of urgent care, and like an urgent care visit, the results are not usually considered a critical part of the patient’s long-term history.
But the more time patients spend getting their treatment from digital doctors on a screen, the more important the mass of medical data generated becomes. Now is the time to develop data structures and tools allowing clinicians and facilities to mine virtual visit data. We’re entering a new era of medicine, one in which patients get better even when they can’t make it to a doctor’s office, so it’s critical that we develop the tools to learn from such encounters.