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“She has been suffering from neck pain for days, and it keeps getting worse….” says my colleague anxiously as he walks by my office this morning. I pity the old lady as I remember facing a similar situation few months ago. Each of us live in middle-class neighborhoods that abound with private clinics, top rated hospitals and pharmacies. His ailing mother is bedridden and he is her only caregiver.

A classic scenario for many patients- and their families- as they struggle to reach their doctors at the time when they most need them. In rural, physician underserved areas, the situation is even worse, and the challenge of booking an appointment in a strained network of primary care physicians is added to that of difficult, long travel distances.

The 2010 Health Tracking Household Survey by the Center for Studying Health System Change revealed that 40.2 percent of primary care medical providers offered extended hours on weekends and evenings. A 2014 survey by Merritt Hawkins, indicated that wait time to see a primary care provider averaged 19.5 days across metropolitan areas. The longest average wait for access to a care provider was 66 days in Boston, with Dallas coming in with the shortest wait time of 5 days.

The Emergency Room is turning into a primary care surrogate! Remember the last time you tried to contact a doctor on the weekend, or simply after regular office hours? Nearly 65 percent of emergency room visits occur between 5:00pm and 8:00am, or on weekends, for non-emergency and emergency cases alike. The Health Tracking Household Survey estimated that the leading source of emergency room visits are health problems occurring outside of normal business hours, when access to a doctor is not possible. Often, patients end up endlessly waiting in the Emergency room to seek care for conditions that could have been treated during a routine office visit. Unnecessary Emergency room visits raises the healthcare bill of the most vulnerable population, payers and other stakeholders, and diverts resources away from patients who truly need it. It was estimated that when people could reach a care provider with extended office hours, they had a significantly lower number of emergency room visits (30.4 percent compared to 37.7 percent) and experienced much lower rates of unmet medical need compared to those who had that higher level of difficulty (6.1 percent compared to 13.7 percent).

Technology is reshaping the way physicians and patients interact, and making them increasingly comfortable communicating via text, email or video conferencing. Better than ever, Innovative tools and sophisticated applications facilitate exchange of medical information and effectively engage patients in their own healthcare.

A primary care Physician, delivered to the comfort of your own home! Telemedicine, that allows virtual doctor appointments from any location through video calls, aim to increase patients’ access to their physicians in a quick, high quality and cost effective manner. It is an ideal solution for patients in rural and remote areas and patients with transportation challenges. Telemedicine allows the convenience of a 24-hour access and follow up monitoring, in a convenient manner. And with increased access to care, clinical outcomes soon improve. The applications of telemedicine are endless, such as in remote follow up, in specialized programs for chronic diseases, speech therapy, exercise sessions for Parkinson disease patients, and many other areas ….

With a growing physician shortage, an aging population with chronic disease conditions, a failing emergency care system, and swelling healthcare costs, Telemedicine has the potential to redefine how we deliver care to patients who mostly need it, save unnecessary costs, and eliminate system inefficiencies.

For parents like my colleague’s mom, and many others across the country, it is an ideal solution.

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