Recent technological advances in telemedicine equipment have made a wide array of virtual care available to more people than ever. From large hospital systems to small clinics, healthcare providers can do more for patients with ease and efficiency using equipment including telemedicine carts and kits, wearables, digital scopes, and more.
Telemedicine is the practice of using telecommunications technology to enhance on-site care and provide clinical care remotely. It comes in a variety of forms, and each type utilizes different telemedicine equipment.
Real-time telemedicine is perhaps the best-known form of telemedicine. It involves live consultations between physicians and patients facilitated by video or teleconferencing. Store-and-forward telemedicine allows physicians and patients to communicate asynchronously by exchanging medical information through secure messaging platforms.
Physicians who want to monitor or check on patients without an in-person visit can use remote patient monitoring with telemedicine equipment to record and transmit patient data. Healthcare providers can also use telemedicine equipment onsite; many hospitals now use telemedicine carts that are mobile workstations equipped with software and hardware to record and transmit patient information.
Telemedicine equipment can play a vital role in providing accessible, quality care to patients, and streamlining operations at healthcare facilities. Read on for more about how telemedicine equipment can enhance your practice.
What Type of Telemedicine Equipment is Right for You?
Choosing telemedicine equipment for your practice comes down to the needs you want to manage. In many cases, telemedicine equipment can work together to serve multiple functions.
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring (RPM) relies heavily on telemedicine devices, including wearable EKG/ECG, blood pressure and blood glucose monitors; biosensors; digital medical scopes and accessories, and even wearable activity trackers including FitBits and smartwatches.
Also available are full home care kits, which include several different types of telemedicine equipment. A standard home care kit usually includes a pulse oximeter, digital stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, glucometer, otoscope, and EKG monitor.
All of these telemedicine devices are used to monitor, record, and transmit data about a patient’s vitals and condition directly to physicians, nurses, or other healthcare providers. Data is transmitted via the internet or Bluetooth technology. This process enables healthcare providers to monitor patients without requiring in-person appointments, particularly those who have chronic conditions or are recovering from operations or illness.
Most RPM devices automatically record and transmit the data they collect, making them easy for patients to use. Healthcare providers monitoring patients with telemedicine equipment can be more proactive in addressing concerns as soon as they see them, rather than waiting for patients to come in for scheduled appointments.
Virtual consultations, which include real-time telemedicine and store-and-forward telemedicine, are largely dependent on software that securely facilitates the communication between patients and healthcare providers. However, there are a few specific pieces of equipment that providers and patients need to successfully implement these kinds of telemedicine.
An internet-connected device, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet, is essential, as is internet access, so a reliable modem and router are required too. Patients and providers also need a good webcam to conduct video consultations, whether it is integrated with the device or purchased separately. A camera is also needed for store-and-forward telemedicine, as this practice relies more on photos of a patient’s area of concern. A scanner is helpful for store-and-forward telemedicine, so patients and providers can upload and send X-rays, MRIs, and pertinent documents.
Although it may not seem high-tech, visual aids such as pain scales, portion size guides, and visual care instructions can be useful in a real-time telemedicine setting as well. Physicians can use these aids much as they would during an in-person consultation to help assess and educate patients.
Real-time telemedicine and store-and-forward telemedicine are best suited for consultations, basic visual exams, follow-up care, dermatology, radiology, pathology, and therapy or counseling.
On-site telemedicine equipment
Telemedicine equipment can help healthcare providers even when patients are physically present, whether they are in a hospital, clinic, doctor’s office, or in a non-clinical location.
For hospitals, telemedicine carts are mobile workstations that provide staff with all of the equipment they need to provide care, record and transmit patients’ medical data, and consult with other physicians virtually. Telemedicine carts usually come equipped with computers, monitors, keyboards, cameras, and mobile medical devices, like digital scopes and wearable monitors.
Hospitals are also increasingly using technology like interactive patient engagement systems to improve patient education and streamline workflows. This practice involves putting interactive equipment like TVs and tablets in patients’ rooms, using specially designed software to teach patients about their conditions and aftercare procedures, and providing ways for patients to request assistance with non-clinical needs.
For physicians and providers who see patients in a non-clinical setting, like the patient’s home, there are telemedicine kits. These pared-down versions of a telemedicine cart are essentially a modern version of a doctor’s bag, and typically include a laptop or tablet, a digital all-in-one scope, a digital stethoscope, a portable ultrasound device, a pulse oximeter, and EKG and blood pressure monitors.
What to Consider When Purchasing Telemedicine Equipment
Here are some of the key considerations to keep in mind when researching and implementing telemedicine equipment:
What you need the equipment to do is perhaps the most important factor to assess when purchasing telemedicine equipment, as it will guide what type of equipment you are researching. For example, if you want to get your practice set up to do virtual consultations, you will need computers, cameras, and scanners, as well as software to securely facilitate those communications. Meanwhile, if you want to implement more remote patient monitoring, you will need mobile monitoring devices to provide to patients, as well as the proper equipment and software on your end to receive and process patient data.
Implementing telemedicine should make providing and receiving care easier, not harder. Evaluate how easy it is to use equipment and devices. For staff, equipment that is difficult to use can result in inefficiency and errors, which can be frustrating at best and life-threatening at worst. For patients, if the equipment is not user-friendly, they could use it incorrectly or resist using it at all. If patients can intuitively use mobile medical devices, they won’t have as many questions or need as much guidance from staff.
Portability is particularly important for RPM and mobile medical devices. Telemedicine equipment that is cumbersome, fragile, or heavy is less useful than equipment that is small, sturdy, and lightweight, particularly if it is meant to be used in the field. Unless it is a piece of equipment that is meant to be fixed in a specific location, like a television in a hospital room, you want to make sure that the telemedicine equipment you are purchasing can be easily moved and stored. Patients with RPM devices will also likely prefer to have equipment that is portable and easy to store.
What is the setup process like for this equipment? Will it work right out of the box, or will it need to be programmed before it can be used? For basic technology, like webcams and digital cameras, the setup and installation process is likely very simple. For more complicated devices, like telemedicine carts, more setup will probably be required. Make sure that setup instructions are clear, and that assistance is available if your staff run into any issues when installing and setting up your equipment. For any equipment that patients will be used by patients, installation and setup are preferably as easy as possible.
Training and support
Consider what kind of training is required to use this equipment and what kind of maintenance support the equipment company provides. Will you have to attend training sessions to learn how to use the equipment, or is learning self-guided through manuals and tutorials? It’s valuable to know what kind of learning curve your staff or patients will face when choosing which equipment to use. Also, what happens if equipment breaks or needs to be upgraded? Does the equipment come with any warranties for repairs or replacements? Ensuring that your equipment will get fixed or replaced quickly is essential to maintaining smooth operations.
Most telemedicine equipment requires some sort of software to be fully functional. Some equipment may come with software already installed, while some software may have to be purchased and installed separately. If you already have software systems in place, you will want to ensure that any equipment or devices you purchase are compatible with what you already have. When researching equipment, find out about software compatibility, and verify that the equipment you are considering has the right system requirements to support any software you already have or are planning on implementing.
The cost of implementing telemedicine is always a significant consideration, especially if your goal in using telemedicine is to lower operating costs and increase revenue. Telemedicine equipment can range from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars, depending on the specific devices and how many of them you need. There are additional costs to consider, including software programs, training, and maintenance. Some of these costs will be ongoing, and some are only associated with implementation. While it can be tempting to cut corners on less expensive equipment, keep in mind that you get what you pay for.
Leading telemedicine equipment companies include:
Amwell: Telemedicine equipment from Amwell ranges from telemedicine cards to peripherals. Home kits can be used with a virtual care app to connect patients and providers with data and communication in real-time.
VSee: VSee offers telemedicine kits for remote consultations, home care kits, and full medicine carts with optional devices including digital stethoscopes.
InTouch Health: InTouch Health has telemedicine solutions including dedicated tables, TVs, and a wide range of telehealth carts. All InTouch Health carts offer video capabilities.
AMD Global Medicine: Integrated medical devices from AMD Global Medicine include cameras, scopes, and vital sign monitors.
GlobalMed: Telemedicine stations from GlobalMed offer virtual care delivery, designed to be used at remote sites, homes, workplaces, schools, and other facilities.