What is telePulmonology?

TelePulmonology is the delivery of a pulmonary assessment and care through telecommunications technology, usually videoconferencing. TelePulmonology allows pulmonary experts to see patients remotely to supplement local care teams or replace in-person pulmonary care.

How does telePulmonology work?

When a patient requires advanced respiratory care, a healthcare provider requests a consultation for telePulmonology. In emergency cases, it may be a nurse or physician in the emergency department, or on the med/surg floors.

Once the consultation is requested by the hospital, the Pulmonology specialist logs on to a videoconference with the patient and the in-person health care team. Family members may also be at the bedside.

The telePulmonology specialist establishes the purpose of the virtual medical consultation, and evaluates the patient, interacting with the care team, the patient, and the family. At the end of the consultation, the specialist provides feedback on follow up care, as well as documents the visit.

Why is the use of telePulmonology growing?

Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, pulmonologists were in higher demand because of aging patients and the continued rise of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder (COPD), which afflicts over 11 million Americans. By 2025, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) projects that there will be a deficit of 1,400 Pulmonologists in the U.S. Also of concern is that about 70 percent of pulmonologists are over age 55 and approaching retirement. Because of the high level of physician burnout in the field, many pulmonologists have retired early or cut back their available hours.

Because the demand for Pulmonology resources outstrips the supply, many hospitals have turned to telePulmonology to help manage this vulnerable patient population.

What are the benefits of telePulmonology?

Improve outcomes for patients with rapid access to pulmonary care

  • Emergency Departments: Remote pulmonology care specialists can quickly consult with the patient and onsite staff for respiratory emergencies.
  • Inpatient: Hospitals without onsite pulmonologists (or not enough of them) can request consultations from specialists to address pulmonary care issues.

Data gathered over the past 20 years demonstrates improved ICU outcomes and decreased operating expenses when they are staffed by dedicated Intensivist physicians, such as Pulmonologists.

Reduce transfers to other facilities because of a lack of pulmonology resources

Many patients are transferred to other medical centers when pulmonology specialists are unavailable at their local hospital. This puts a significant burden on the patient and their family, as well as delays, and in some cases, endangers care. These transfers also reduce the revenue for the transferring hospital at a time when hospitals are facing significant shortfalls.

Lower costs for pulmonology care

Many hospitals have trouble hiring all the specialists they need, and pulmonology care is no different. Because of this scarcity, expected salaries and benefits can be out of reach of many hospitals.  Using locum tenens physicians to fill gaps is even more expensive than hiring boots-on-the-ground physicians. In contrast, telePulmonology care is flexible for hospitals who need only pay for the coverage they need. Plus, augmenting local staff with night-time or weekend only coverage is much more affordable.

Conclusion

TelePulmonology is an affordable coverage solution for pulmonary care. With an increase in the number of patients with respiratory issues because of the pandemic, and the increase of patients with COPD, telePulmonology can help provide access to professionals quicker and more conveniently than in person care.

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