We have seen an exponential growth in the number of telemedicine visits being performed since the pandemic’s arrival on our shores. While this growth is expected to plateau, telemedicine is here to stay well beyond the pandemic. A recent article by Becker’s Hospital Review, “Trump directs federal agencies to make telehealth reforms ‘totally permanent,”
(1) states that the Trump administration has urged federal agencies to make the temporary changes to healthcare reforms permanent to allow for the benefits of telemedicine.
As telemedicine plays a larger role in care delivery and care management, it is imperative for providers to implement this in a way that helps streamline operational efficiencies and effectively manage care. Comparing telehealth’s cost to deliver to in-person visits alone makes a strong argument for its increased use. It is estimated that a telehealth visit saves a provider $86.64 (2) over a typical in-person visit. Providers could see an increase in revenue with an increased number of visit capacity, lower overhead costs and fewer no-shows and yet patients still experience the bulk of benefits from lower copays, convenience and significant time savings.
A streamlined, easy to use, and effective telemedicine program can become a critical differentiator for healthcare organizations as we rapidly adopt this patient-centric healthcare medium.
Below we will highlight 3 aspects of telemedicine that will be critical for provider organizations to master
– Make it Easy
– Make it Effective
– Make it Applicable
Make it Easy
Providers need to make it easy for patients to access and schedule telemedicine visits. Staff training on how to interact effectively in this medium and choosing a telemedicine platform that (a) supports a variety of interaction models (e.g., audio only, audio/video) and that (b) works on different devices and platforms will be very important to increased adoption. Likewise, focus on member education and getting members comfortable with this new way of scheduling visits and interacting with their physicians is also vital to the adoption of a telemedicine platform. Along the same lines, physician training and adoption is also very important to make sure they are comfortable with the technology and understand the care, documentation and coding guidelines necessary to integrate the telemedicine platform into their patient record system or EHR. One important aspect to highlight to patients is the ease of use and convenience factor. According to the American Journal of Managed care, it typically takes 2 hours of patient time to see a doctor for 20 minutes. If that were a telemedicine visit, it would be a total of 25 minutes, which accounts for 5 minutes to log-in and get setup. This is a whooping 80% time savings for the patient.
Make it Applicable
Telemedicine can provide insights into a patient’s care setting that providers otherwise miss in an in-office face-to-face setting. Social Determinants of Health are an important element of healthcare and are often misrepresented, unknown or unrealized when there is no context. Conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play largely affect the range of a patient’s health risks and outcomes. These risks are becoming increasingly visible with video-enabled telehealth. Practitioners are able gain a glimpse into the lives of their patients with telehealth as they would from an expensive in-home visit. “A doctor can see into the lives of patients with telemedicine encounters,” says Rich Bitting from Jefferson Health in Pennsylvania. “Previously unknown SDoH factors can now be viewed first-hand by the practitioner. One of our patients had an intracranial surgery and was home recovering. With a single telehealth visit, the doctor was able to see into this patient’s life where he was having dinner with his family and have first-hand witness of his nutrition, support system, and environment. This insight can be invaluable data to have when assessing patient recovery, overall well-being or any outlying needs,” he added. Quantifiable SDoH further legitimizes telehealth and may add additional value in the SHIFT to value-based-care.
Make it Effective
While the cost savings and care benefits can be significant, there are certain limits and constraints where telemedicine may not be possible for everyone. There are clearly conditions that require a face-to-face visit or intervention, such as a complex lab test or physical diagnostic examination to diagnose or treat. There are other limitations to be aware of as well. A recent survey by OneCare Vermont indicated that 86% of patients hesitate to use telehealth as an option because of the lack of technical know-how or financial resources (3).
OneCare Vermont Telehealth Survey March 2020
While some of the above barriers can be addressed directly by provider organizations, there are others that will take time and external change agents. For instance, access to affordable, adequate broadband and technology accounts for a large portion of survey responses. Patients that reside in poor socioeconomic conditions are the very individuals that need further professional insight into their SDoH but have the highest likelihood of not being able to participate in telehealth visits. Federal and State governments, for example, may be the likely “change agents” who can invest the capital into Internet bandwidth to make access readily available and affordable even in rural areas.
In summary, while telemedicine has its limitations, it will play a growing and more important role in care delivery. It is imperative for provider organizations to adopt this strategy to reduce costs, increase the quality of patient care, and lessen patient barriers to quality care.
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