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This is the one perk the health care field has been missing…until now

Get ready to rethink how—and where—you do your job.

This is the one perk the health care field has been missing…until now

Once upon a time, it was assumed that health care providers had to see their patients in person. This was the only effective way to diagnose—to poke, prod and prescribe.

Today, jobs in health care are hotter than ever, but this heavily-regulated industry has really never been allowed to ride the technological wave as freely as industries such as communications, IT or sales to name a few.

That is, until now. The health care worker of today can, in fact, work remotely just like his or her brethren in any number of alternate industries.

In fact, according to Managed Healthcare Executive magazine, the global telemedicine market—as it is newly being termed—is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate of 14.3% over the next five years, eventually reaching $36.2 billion.

Here’s a look at how this trend is taking shape today.

What kinds of jobs are being created

Physicians are the driving force behind telemedicine. Theoretically, any specialty can be incorporated into a telemedicine platform, says Lamin Sonko, chief operating officer of health-care recruiting firm Elsayyad Medical Group, using a "store and forward" or "remote monitoring" telemedicine system in which the patient interacts with the physician by sending and receiving progress reports or instructions on how to treat symptoms.

Linda Burke-Galloway, a physician and partner in Houston-based telemedicine company Click-it-Clinic—whose mission is to “empower the best physicians to provide exceptional health care online”—says she anticipates many new opportunities for remote health care workers, particularly in services that provide visual imaging, a category which includes radiologists, ultrasound technicians and dermatologists.

But physicians are not the only type of health-care worker who may find themselves working remotely. There is also a strong need for nurse case managers, says Ken Wells, an account manager at Core Health Networks, which is headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and provides remote services in occupational health care. “We look for nurses with strong communication skills who feel a sense of responsibility for the ultimate well-being of the patient, even though their only contact is over the phone,” he says. “This takes maturity, judgment and empathy.”

Health-care workers who practice telemedicine say they appreciate the flexibility remote work provides, as well as the sense of autonomy. “The case managers who come to us from hospitals appreciate the ability to work independently,” Wells says. “They get the satisfaction of being problem solvers instead of cogs in the wheel.” That could result in reduced risk of burnout.

Why the field is growing so fast

The telemedicine movement has definite perks for the health-care industry: As health care costs continue to skyrocket, telemedicine is playing an important role in cost containment. Direct-to-consumer e-visits cost roughly 30% less than face-to-face clinical encounters, estimates Richard Bakalar, managing director at professional services firm KPMG and member of their Global Healthcare Center of Excellence, an arm of the company specifically tailored toward the auditing needs of health-care organizations.

But patients are feeling the positive effects as well. Consumers appreciate the convenience of skipping traffic and lines at the doctor’s office. Advocates also point to the advantages in delivering care that telemedicine can provide, particularly as the technology underpinning it improves. “Many laptop and smartphone cameras already provide a better visual image than the naked eye,” Bakalar says.

Some advocates also point to telemedicine as a way to fill a necessary gap as the health care system is becoming increasingly taxed by the aging population and a shortage of primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas.

Additionally driving the trend from both sides is the fact that, increasingly, insurers are covering the visits—29 states now have parity laws, which require health insurance companies to pay for telemedicine at the same rate as in-person service.

All together, that means we should continue to see the remote medical field—and the number of jobs in it—continue to grow for the next several years.

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