The use of TeleHealth is growing, and it is being adopted through four primary channels: providers, payers, employers, and consumers.
TeleHealth is slowly reaching critical mass and is transforming how healthcare is delivered. It promises to take cost out of the system and provide the convenient, 24/7 access to care that patients have long-desired with the potential to even improve the quality of care. There are four key questions to be answered to properly understand this developing transformation:
Before proceeding further, it is worth pointing out that telemedicine is a sub-component of telehealth. Telemedicine refers specifically to clinical services offered through electronic and telecommunications technologies, whereas telehealth encompasses broader services, including provider training, administrative meetings, and continuing medical education.
ACCESS TO CARE
For years, telemedicine has helped bring care to patients in remote geographic areas. What we are seeing now is that millions of previously uninsured people are being added to the system following passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This, coupled with the decline and shortage of primary care physicians, is putting even more stress in an industry where it already takes patients an average of 19.5 days to make an appointment at a family practice. Also, the growing elderly population and patients with chronic diseases are deciding to stay at home rather than go to a facility to seek care. Technological innovations now allow anyone with a telephone, computer, or smartphone to immediately connect with a telemedicine provider from the comforts of their own home at a time that is convenient for them. Telemedicine has also opened up new markets for providers, giving them access to patients that they would never see in their brick-and-mortar office setting.
It is not a secret that healthcare costs have been spiraling out of control for a while now. Telemedicine aims to reduce the costs associated with having patients come in for a regular office visit. There are more than 900 million physician visits each year in the U.S., with just about half of them being for low-acuity medical conditions. Healthcare systems and payers have also been trying to reduce both the increasing number of hospital and/or ER visits and the length of stay once the patient is admitted. Telemedicine can help providers monitor patients while at home, cutting down the need for unnecessary hospital visits or readmissions.
QUALITY OF CARE
Today’s telemedicine providers are increasingly delivering high-quality care while maintaining patient safety for medically appropriate conditions. Telemedicine allows patients to receive care in a timely manner, which is critical to a patient obtaining the best care possible. It can also provide efficient care, maximizing the benefit to the patient while keeping costs at an absolute minimum. For chronic care patients especially, telemedicine can greatly improve treatment compliance through frequent monitoring and more proactive care outreach.