The Complete Guide to Store and Forward Telehealth

Virtual delivery of healthcare services is now an everyday reality in the US. Innovations in telemedicine empower the healthcare providers to improve the quality of care while adding efficiency to the process and keeping the healthcare costs in check.

84 percent of physicians are now offering virtual visits and 57 percent would prefer to continue offering virtual care.

Synchronous and asynchronous telemedicine are the two overarching types of telehealth technologies that are commonly used in healthcare settings when delivering virtual care.

While synchronous telemedicine also known as real-time or face-to-face telemedicine has found widespread adoption, the advantages that asynchronous telemedicine offers is also being increasingly acknowledged in the healthcare fraternity.

Before taking a deep dive into the benefits of asynchronous or store-and-forward telemedicine, let us first understand what it really means.

What is store and forward telehealth?

Store and forward telehealth is defined as the transmission of a patient’s recorded health history and clinical data in the form of lab reports, MRI scans, images of skin lesions or X ray images through electronic communications systems to the healthcare providers.

These healthcare practitioners then evaluate the information outside of real-time patient interaction, enabling access to specialist care.

Telemedicine technologies can be broadly divided into three distinct types.

  1. Real time or synchronous telemedicine
  2. Asynchronous or store and forward telemedicine
  3. Remote patient monitoring

Unlike synchronous telehealth where real time interaction with patients takes place through video and audio consultations, and data sharing is live streamed, store and forward telemedicine involves sharing of patient data through a HIPAA compliant platform, to be reviewed later, without any interaction with the patients in real-time.

Applications of store and forward telemedicine

1. Teleradiology

Radiology is a specialty where store and forward telemedicine is currently working wonders. The X ray, MRI and/or CT scans can be sent over to the radiologist who can give the radiological diagnosis to the consulting physician at a later time. The ability to analyze radiological images in bulk brings in efficiency in the entire process.

2. Teledermatology

Similar to teleradiology, teledermatology in store and forward telemedicine involves the images of skin lesions to be sent to a dermatologist who can then view, diagnose and prescribe a treatment plan remotely.

Mole-mapping and skin lesion clinics led by nursing staff can be another form of store and forward telehealth in which the images and relevant lab results can be sent out by the nurses for detection of skin cancer.

3. Specialist referrals

Store and forward telemedicine can also provide a platform for specialist referrals. The patient data can be transferred to the specialists remotely who can then give their expert opinion and take a call whether a consultation is needed.

4. Teleophthalmology

Remote eye screening in which patients can click optical images and send over to ophthalmologists can help in early detection of ocular anomalies and help improve the overall patient outcomes.

5. Management of chronic conditions

Store and forward telehealth can streamline the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. A trained technician can conduct retinal screening and send out images of diabetic retinopathy to the consulting physicians.

Combined with data from connected medical devices such as glucose meters, this form of telehealth can empower patients to take control of their own health and keep the complications that result to a minimum.

Benefits of store and forward telemedicine

1. Improved efficiency and convenience

The patients, the healthcare practitioner and the specialists do not have to be available at the same time. Once the patient files are sent over, the healthcare professionals can choose to go through the same at their own time.

Since there are no real-time patient appointments, the overall efficiency is higher in case of store and forward telemedicine.

2. Reduced wait times

With data being analyzed on a priority and reports typically being generated within a span of hours, the wait times that patients face are considerably lower in case of store and forward telemedicine.

Access to specialist care is typically associated with longer wait times. However, with the use of asynchronous telemedicine, the wait times for specialist referrals is brought down, making care more accessible.

3. Effective utilization of healthcare resources

With routine cases being managed through telemedicine, healthcare providers can schedule their time more efficiently and focus on cases that need immediate attention. A real-time  telemedicine visit can take up equal time as in-person visit.

A physician can take up to 4-5 virtual telemedicine consultations in real time in the span of an hour. However, the same physician can review 20 cases in the same time span when using store and forward telehealth.

4. Advancement of evidence-based care

Store and forward telemedicine allows the healthcare providers to gather patient information, conduct data analysis and finally make an informed decision about the diagnosis.

It also accounts for better documentation and storage of the patient’s health records so that they can be accessed at a later date.

Challenges to store and forward telemedicine

While healthcare organizations and providers are increasingly turning towards telemedicine technology and are developing a telemedicine app for their practices, the focus is primarily towards real-time telemedicine applications. One of the major reasons for this is the reimbursement challenges associated with this type of telemedicine.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has been extremely slow on embracing and reimbursing providers for using the technology. State medicaid programs and private insurers also do not have a robust reimbursement system in place for store and forward telemedicine.

In a number of states, the definition of telemedicine includes the delivery of healthcare services in real-time, which excludes asynchronous telemedicine to be eligible for reimbursement. Currently, only 15 states offer medicaid reimbursement for store and forward telemedicine, making it the biggest implementation challenge.

While the regulatory and reimbursement landscape has historically been slow to adapt to this subset of telemedicine, change is gradually forthcoming. Not only is store and forward telemedicine being increasingly used in private practice, its applicability in the field of public health is also being recognized.

Additionally, you can choose to deploy store and forward telemedicine in addition to your existing workflows. By acting as an add-on to real-time telemedicine or in-person visits, this form of telemedicine can add value to the healthcare delivery pathways that you currently employ in your practice.

Looking to integrate telemedicine in your clinical workflows? Get in touch with our experts to understand how you can maximize its potential within your practice.

With more than a decade of specialized experience, Arkenea is a telemedicine app development company that specializes in developing and deploying user-friendly and HIPAA-compliant, custom telemedicine software solutions.