Despite the fact that telemedicine has been around for more than 40 years, many independent orthopedic practices have failed to adopt the technology.
But hospital-owned medical practices have been successfully implementing the service for years; a 2017 HIMSS Analytics study shows widespread adoption, even among rural hospital networks:
- 71% of hospitals actively incorporate telemedicine into patient care.
- 49% of physician providers that participated in the study currently use telemedicine.
- 75% of healthcare providers say they are interested in telemedicine as a way to “improve patient experience, increase access to care and provide continuity of care.”
- 98% of the providers using telemedicine say it gives them a competitive business advantage.
For orthopedists skeptical that telemedicine will benefit their practice, take note of the Harris Poll that showed more than 66% of the population surveyed would be willing to see their physician by video conference.
Now, couple all of this data with the millennial populations’ increasing reliance on mobile phones. Data shows that the smartphone is increasingly the only access to broadband that these young adults are using. This population, born between 1977 and 2000 are far more likely to seek out telemedicine solutions, according to Business Insider.
If your orthopedist practice is considering the future, all the signs point to telemedicine as a smart service line.
Telemedicine in Orthopedics – The Advantages are Clear
If your orthopedic practice is interested in differentiating itself in the marketplace, telemedicine is a viable and affordable option. There are five key benefits to providing telehealth:
1. Increased Access to Care
One of the biggest benefits of telemedicine has been improved access to care. This is especially important in areas where provider shortages are a persistent problem.
The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is currently predicting a provider shortage in both primary and specialty care of up to 120,000 providers by 2030. The study cites the increasing demands of aging Baby Boomers, coupled with retirement of one-third of all current practicing providers, will have serious impact on access to care. But telemedicine expands the reach of the medical practice, including orthopedic practices struggling to keep up with demand.
The benefits for pre- and postoperative orthopedic care include the convenience for patients of receiving treatment without having to travel to an office. For patents with painful orthopedic issues, telemedicine reduces the possibilities of “wear and tear” during the healing process. Patients can log in with their mobile device or laptop as an alternative to a trip on-site.
Orthopedists can use telemedicine to provide specialty consults to primary care physicians. This could potentially speed up the appointment process for acute care or eliminate the need for an actual patient visit entirely.
2) Reduced Practice Inefficiencies
An article in the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) was written by an orthopedist, Dr. Alfred Atanda Jr., that has been successfully using telemedicine in his surgical practice. Dr. Atanda uses telemedicine with established patients to improve practice efficiencies by increasing the patient volume, reducing per-patient visit times, and decreasing no-shows.
Dr. Atanda’s work with telemedicine technology illustrates improved service efficiencies. He uses telehealth for simple follow-up appointments and post-ops, wound checks, and lab result reviews. In his practice he has reduced the in-patient visit time from an average of 68 to 17 minutes per patient.
3) Improved Quality and Safety
The studies show that telemedicine improves clinical outcomes. Here are four examples:
- A study of 400-orthpedic patients published in BMC Health Services Research concluded “it is safe to offer video-assisted consultations for selected orthopaedic patients.”
- A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that telemedicine increased annual screening rates for diabetic retinopathy while reducing wait times.
- Health Affairs cited increased access to mental and behavioral health services in rural treatment settings with telemedicine use.
- The Journal of Medical Internet Research published a study showing telehealth programs reduced hospital admissions and the mortality rates of hearth failure patients.
4) Improved Patient Relationships
Clinical studies continue to show that patient satisfaction scores remain high with telemedicine:
- A study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma suggested patient satisfaction scores were just as high for telemedicine visits as for in-person treatment.
- The Cleveland Clinic has been offering telemedicine in orthopedic treatment for years. One patient said, “I don’t know any other way we could have done this…it worked out beautifully.” Click here for a video of a Cleveland Clinic orthopedic patient sharing their positive experience with the technology.
An AAOS article points out some of the obvious benefits from a patient perspective:
- No time or travel expenses.
- No parking issues.
- Less time away from school or work.
- Less contact with other sick people.
Patient satisfaction scores are higher with telemedicine applications because the technology reduced the frustrations with long wait times and travel commonly associated with any visit to a physician.
5) Reduced Overhead
For providers concerned about practice efficiencies, the overhead costs of providing treatment are reduced with telemedicine. From reduced staffing in the medical practice to a reduction in emergency room visits, telehealth is a smart way to reduce healthcare costs.
Some of the outcomes achieved include:
- One provider, cited in Orthopedics Today said that telemedicine has cut his costs by about $4,000 per operation, while reducing emergency room visits and saving 15 to 20% on bundled payments.
- Another study looked at the efficiencies of providing telemedicine visits to elderly patient with complex co-morbidities and concluded “Home telehealth reduces healthcare costs.”
- Managed Care Magazine says telemedicine could reduce U.S. healthcare costs by as much as $6 billion annually.”
The studies have shown reduced readmission rates, better staff utilization, and more proactive care options, all help reduce costs.
As reimbursement continues to decline, this leads us to our final question for your orthopedic team – can your practice afford not to consider a telemedicine option for the future?
Why Speak to Your Ortho Group About Telemedicine?
“As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve and the emphasis on value and satisfaction continues to grow, telemedicine may be used by providers to control costs and resource utilization, while keeping patients satisfied and delivering quality care.”
Alfred Atanda Jr, MD
It’s clear that telemedicine is not perfect for every orthopedic consultation. The technology was never meant to completely replace the in-person visit. But the evidence has also shown us that, when incorporated within more “standard” treatment workflows, telemedicine is a clinically documented tool to improve quality care while reducing costs in the orthopedic practice. When you’re ready to speak to your ortho group about telemedicine, contact OrthoLive for a free demo of our HIPAA-compliant telehealth service.