Healthcare consumerism has all-but eliminated the old “if you build it they will come” hospital mentality. A decade ago hospitals simply added or renovated a wing and waited for patients to fill it. Now, increased competition and declining reimbursement are forcing healthcare leaders to shift the paradigm to encompass a patient-centric approach.
Care delivery today has begun to focus on empowering patients as equal decision makers driving treatment. Quality, price, and convenience are now the mantra of patients seeking faster and less costly treatment, preventative care, and greater transparency in healthcare. At the same time, healthcare costs are skyrocketing as the demand for qualified providers far exceeds the supply.
Engaging patients in their own care could positively impact all of these trends, particularly in chronic disease management. For example, studies show that increasing the engagement of U.S. diabetic patients alone could decrease costs by $4,297 per patient.
Ironically, all of these trends can be positively impacted by the one tool that most of our patients can’t do without – their smartphone. Mobile health tools including activity tracking, diet monitoring, and telemedicine, are increasingly seen as the best way to engage patients, cut costs, and improve quality outcomes.
How can telemedicine, which is a healthcare visit conducted via a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, help providers respond effectively to consumer demands? How can telehealth engage patients more effectively in their own care?
Prior articles have addressed the benefits of telehealth for providers. In the spirit of patient-centered care, let’s turn these questions around and ask, instead, how can telemedicine benefit our patients? What’s in it for them?
Telemedicine from the Patient’s Perspective
The studies show us that, while the majority of American healthcare consumers have not used telehealth, they are interested in trying it. That’s in part because we’ve grown accustomed to using our smartphones for everything from paying bills to job hunting. Our digital devices now include wearables like the Apple Watch, which track vital signs and activity. These devices arguably make life more convenient in many ways, so it seems a natural extension to dial up a doctor from these same digital communications tools.
Here are five specific ways that telemedicine could benefit our patients:
- Reduced costs
Patients spend a lot of time and money pursuing healthcare, which go beyond paying private insurance premiums. Primarily patients are still seen on a nine to five schedule, which is convenient for physicians. But consider that the majority of your customers must leave work to pursue treatment. Rural communities typically lack access to specialty treatment, so consider that your patients may also have to migrate to a more urban setting to receive care. These travel costs can add up, along with taking time off work, which also costs employers billions in lost productivity.
Bringing the clinician to the patient via a virtual house call means that patients save time and money. They won’t struggle with the stress of a physical ailment and travel. They can cut back on unnecessary lost time at work. There are no worries about replacement caregiving for elderly parents or children at home. Instead, they can seek the guidance of a clinician by simply pushing a few buttons on their phone.
- More control over their own health
Remote health monitoring is playing an increasing role in managing chronic diseases, providing proactive and immediate care. Remote health monitoring is a form of telehealth, and it allows patients to be seen by a physician, midlevel, or another provider, when they need help and without traveling to receive it. For patients struggling with serious illness or post-surgical wound care, having a virtual visit in the comfort and privacy of their own home lets the patient control their own health outcomes. It puts control back in the hands of the consumer.
Becker’s suggests that, of the more than one billion in-person clinical encounters in the U.S. each year, about half are routine and could be handled by a telehealth remote exam. Telehealth, by design, is at-home healthcare created to improve the convenience of receiving medical treatment.
- Improved access to care
Becker’s reports the average time to see a doctor is 24-days in the United States. That’s a 30% increase over two years ago. With provider shortages predicted, it will take longer for Americans to receive care. When patients must wait for their healthcare, outcomes go down. From the patient’s perspective, it’s more convenient to go to the ER or urgent care, even if the on-site wait times there are also frustratingly long.
But for some patients who live in rural areas, access to certain specialties is simply nonexistent. This requires travel to a distant facility, which could be sometimes hundreds of miles away. This could necessitate an overnight stay for treatment, which typically isn’t covered by payers. Now tack on the vagaries of extreme weather, uncertain transportation, childcare, time off work, and any number of other hurdles and you start to understand why telehealth, in many instances, is expected to become the patients’ number one choice for healthcare in the future.
- Continuity of care
Care coordination – or lack of -- is an increasing frustration for patients and providers alike. Research tells us that continuity of care is a huge issue in our fragmented healthcare systems. Medical mistakes lessen and healthcare costs are lowered through better care coordination. But, for patients, it’s an issue of relationship continuity between them and their primary caregiver that is the biggest frustration. That trusting relationship can take years to build, but the siloed specialty model means that patients are often handed back and forth between providers, which adds to their stress.
Telehealth is the answer to bringing clinical teams in cost-effective and efficient ways. Patients benefit from this enhanced form of case management, feeling as if a coordinated team is coming together on their behalf.
For the hospitalized patient in a rural community facility, telehealth can bring a specialty provider right to their bedside. Consults can happen more quickly when a provider participates in a telehealth visit. Instead of making the patient and their primary clinical team wait for a specialist to drive in from a remote health system hospital in an urban area, a virtual consult can bring together an entire team of caregivers.
Finally, the bottom line, from a patient perspective, is that telehealth makes healthcare more convenient for them. Instead of waiting for an appointment for days, telehealth visits are more accessible. Instead of dealing with the inconvenience of travel, telehealth doctors, come to the patient. Eliminating added costs, time off work, childcare, and even the physical pain of an office visit for the non-mobile or chronically ill patient, can lessen their stress. These are exactly some of the key reasons why telehealth visits are expected to proliferate in the next new years.
Talk with the team at OrthoLive about how our telehealth application can benefit your patients. We offer an affordable, fully compliant and secure way to use virtual tools to benefit your patients. Contact us.