After decades of intermittent use by only the largest of healthcare providers, telehealth is predicted to increase rapidly in popularity over the next few years. Telehealth is the use of digital technology to provide healthcare to a remote patient. There is growing evidence that these digital tools are flipping the traditional office visit upside down in every medical specialty area.
This is in part because patients express a growing comfort level with the service, as evidenced by a January 2019 study in The American Journal of Managed Care. The new research adds to a growing body of evidence that shows more than half of patients in all age categories would prefer a telemedicine visit over the traditional onsite clinical encounter.
For orthopedists, telehealth is being used in a number of ways that push the boundaries of what is possible in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders.
Examples of Telehealth in Orthopedics
Sage Growth Partners says the overall market for telehealth will double in the next few years and that it is “rich with potential.” The sector is predicted to outperform growth in health analytics, and overall IT.
But how will providers use telehealth to serve their patients, particularly in the orthopedics space? Here are 10-use cases that illustrate telehealth for orthopedics:
- Primary care consults
One of the most common reasons for a primary care office visit is for injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Whether it’s a sprain or a condition such as arthritis, MSK ailments top the list of PCP visits, along with costly trips to the emergency room. Telemedicine can be used to connect orthopedists with ER teams or in a primary care consult to help strengthen the diagnosis and provide care continuity. This is particularly important in rural areas where specialty care is in short supply.
- Urgent care
MSK injuries are also commonly presented at urgent care centers. Telehealth can be used to provide an on-demand orthopedic service that helps reduce overcrowding in the ER. These programs provide an additional link in the healthcare safety net while reducing the workload on the hospital staff.
- Occupational Medicine/Workers compensation
Orthopedics is a specialty area that lends itself nicely to the occupational health environment. Employed U.S. workers lose more than 147 million days of work due to musculoskeletal injuries. With workers compensation costs skyrocketing, telehealth offers employers a way to overcome provider shortages and high costs of providing assessment and triage to injured workers. A recent study suggested U.S. businesses could cut more than $6 billion a year by adding an orthopedic telehealth program to their occupational health program. Telehealth provides an immediate on-call response to worker injury in the field, reducing unnecessary and costly ER visits, improving claims determinations, and improving back-to-work times.
- Sports trainers/sports medicine
With 30 million children participating in sports each year, and 3.5 experiencing injury, having an on-call orthopedist provides not only immediate triage and support but peace of mind for parents, schools, and athletic leagues. It’s typically not feasible for an orthopedic doctor to be on-call for every game, so a virtual clinical assessment provides a cost-effective alternative for the student-athlete.
- For ER virtual consults
Having an on-call specialist for hospital emergency departments is an especially difficult undertaking for the rural community hospital. That’s exactly where telehealth can bring together an orthopedist in a secondary consult with an emergency room team. Not only can the orthopedic on-call provide care when a hospital lacks proper resources, but they can also alleviate some of the burdens of on-call for the employed orthopedist. With 74% of rural ERs struggling with call coverage, telehealth brings together the right resources to support these facilities.
- Readmission prevention program
Hospitals can greatly reduce their risk of Medicare penalty by implementing a telehealth option. It’s one of the main benefits of the technology. Orthopedics plays a role in risk reduction by providing clinical post-surgical support to help reduce readmission. Remote monitoring tools can also help monitor the patient while at home, providing additional education and support as well as physical therapy.
- Bundled payment programs
An article in mHealth Intelligence suggests that orthopedic practices seeking to improve post-acute care can benefit from bundled payments designed around telehealth. Joint replacement patients can receive at-home rehab with telehealth, thus creating substantial cost reduction across a healthcare continuum. Orthopedists can come together with payers and rehab centers to establish a bundled payment service that shows value and improves the bottom line.
- Rural Health
Over the past several years, rural healthcare has been in decline. Community hospitals have closed and the remaining facilities are struggling to attract the more expensive specialty providers, like orthopedists, to their facilities. Yet these organizations provide a needed service to rural communities. Telehealth allows these facilities to utilize the expertise of orthopedics and orthopedic surgeons to provide care when and where it’s needed most.
- Correctional facilities
Our nations correctional facilities accrue a high cost, which is often passed on to taxpayers, whenever an inmate requires healthcare beyond basic primary care treatment. The high cost is associated with the transport of these prisoners outside the secure walls of the facility to a hospital or specialty practice provider. With telehealth, specialty providers can dial-in to consult with on-site staff and the patient, to provide care for orthopedic or any other health issue.
- Nursing Homes/skilled nursing facilities
Today, one of the biggest problems facing healthcare providers is the growing population of baby boomers reaching retirement. By 2060 there will be more than 98 million Americans over the age of 65. It will place unprecedented demand on our nation’s nursing facilities. But telehealth can be leveraged to keep the elderly in their homes longer, providing care for chronic conditions via virtual remote monitor tools. Orthopedics can provide post-surgical consults for knee and hip replacement patients without requiring these vulnerable populations to travel unnecessarily. Physical therapists and social workers can work directly with these populations via a computer or smartphone, keeping them connected and providing support. When the elderly can no longer stay at home, doctors can provide on-demand bedside assistance in nursing homes with telehealth tools.
It seems very clear that telehealth can be used in a variety of clinical settings to provide orthopedic treatment. Isn’t it time your practice had a conversation about the OrthoLive application to see how it can move your business forward?