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Breaking Barriers to Patient Use of Telehealth Technology

Posted by James Baker, Chief Medical Officer | March 13, 2019 |
James Baker, Chief Medical Officer

When it comes to telehealth, early adoption is over. Using digital technology to provide patient care dates back to the 1950s. Hospitals and health systems across the country have published a plethora of healthcare outcomes data that show the benefits of telehealth include:

  • Increased patient satisfaction and engagement.
  • Expanded access to care for patients.
  • Improved practice efficiency.
  • Reduced wait times.
  • Reduced practice overhead.
  • Decreased patient, practice, and hospital cost for care delivery.
  • Improved healthcare outcomes, particularly in the treatment of chronic care conditions.
  • Reduced hospital readmissions.

But the studies show that patient adoption of telehealth is increasing slowly, as are provider comfort level with these new tools, particularly in medical practice settings. Let’s look at some of the factors slowing down adoption as well as the pressures creating strategic imperatives for the increased and widespread adoption of telehealth.

Healthcare Challenges Necessitating Telehealth Adoption

“Healthcare stakeholders have high hopes for telehealth as an essential ingredient for creating a better system of care. The future of remote care delivery depends on powerful technologies and smart networks to attain these aspirations. With rising healthcare costs and unprecedented pressures on healthcare systems to connect care across the continuum, the time is right to use telehealth to break down the barriers to make healthcare more efficient, more connected and more affordable.”
Telehealth: Breaking Down Barriers for Connected Health
AT&T

As any hospital CEO and they will likely admit to a series of unprecedented challenges as we approach 2025. That’s when our nation’s healthcare providers will face multiple converging forces that will put increasing pressure on our systems of care. Some of the biggest problems to solve include:

  • Escalating costs of care delivery.
    Modern Healthcare calls these costs “unsustainable,” citing drug costs, new medical services, service price inflation, and market consolidation as underlying trends.
  • Aging U.S. populations.
    The U.S. Census Bureau says, for the first time in history, 2030 will mark a time when the elderly outnumber children. All Baby Boomers will be older than 65-years old, and by 2035 there will be 78 million people in this age category.
  • Increases in chronic disease conditions.
    Chronic, long-term disease modalities now make up 75% of all healthcare costs in the United States.
  • A shortage of healthcare providers.
    During this same timeframe, the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts the widespread shortages of clinicians in primary and specialty care, along with nurses, midlevels and homecare providers.

All of these healthcare challenges are the best argument to date for a faster push toward telehealth. Simply put, telemedicine can help cut costs, improve access to care, and engage patients in their treatment in new ways. But there are barriers still blocking access to patient adoption of this technology. Let’s look at technology, our patients, and what’s stopping widespread use of telehealth to improve their care.

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Today’s Connected Patient

Today’s patients seem poised to adopt telehealth. Not only are they Google-empowered to look up treatments for common clinical conditions, but they can also go to a patient portal offered by most health systems to schedule their appointment or look up lab results. Technology has been the enabler, allowing anyone with a digital connection to log in to online health communities and support groups to share outcomes, ideas, and advice. Our customers can even take part in crowdsourcing efforts to collect data on chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) by logging onto a website and sharing their experience with the disease.

Healthcare providers are increasingly responding to the digital-enablement of our customers by creating innovative ways to engage them via their handheld digital devices. Telehealth is one such initiative, seeking to use the Internet, software, and computer hardware to bring the virtual house call to patients everywhere.

But The Commonwealth Fund says healthcare innovators and the patients they serve must still overcome barriers before widespread adoption of telemedicine technology can be achieved:

  • The accessibility of technology itself is an issue. Studies show that 62 million Americans in urban settings and 16 million in rural communities do not have access to high-speed Internet. While it’s been widely reported that there is a digital health revolution, it seems that not everyone has access to an affordable broadband connection. Low health literacy also plays a factor; one study suggested 80 million Americans simply do not understand their health well enough to use technology to change it. As you might imagine, this disparity affects a disproportionate number of poor people. Health Affairs points out that poorer populations have a higher incidence of chronic care conditions, diseases where telehealth has proven to have a significant impact.
  • Clinician resistance to telehealth is perhaps not surprising; people are reluctant to change in general, but possibly, doctors in particular. A 2018 Deloitte study found:
    --90% of doctors see value in virtual care but only 14% have adopted
    these tools.
    --Only 18% plan on adopting telehealth in the near future.
    --Only one-third of the providers that currently have telehealth use it
    on a regular basis.

It doesn’t help, of course, that complex licensing and reimbursement have made telehealth more difficult to implement. Doctors say these difficulties are just one factor, however, citing the following concerns hampering their consideration of these tools:

  • 22% say it just doesn’t fit their workflow.
  • 23% say their patients aren’t interested in telehealth.
  • 33% express concern about privacy and data security.
  • 36% say they’re concerned about medical errors.

This reluctance is not mirrored at the hospital level. Health Leaders Media reports that 62% of employed physicians are using telehealth or some other digital healthcare delivery mechanism via their hospital or health system. The independent medical practice is lagging behind, with just 49% making use of some sort of digital tool today.

What’s Next for Telehealth?

The Center for Information Technology Leadership says that widespread use of telemedicine technology to help with early intervention and preventative care as well as clinical care coordination could save $3.61 billion annually in the U.S.

Today, we know digital technology can empower patients to take charge of their health while helping solve many of the most pressing problems in U.S. healthcare today. OrthoLive is firmly entrenched in the digital healthcare space; our telemedicine application helps orthopedic providers improve care outcomes while cutting costs. Find out more.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", digital trends, physician shortage, doctor-patient relationship, hospital readmissions, digital health, tipping point

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