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How Can Telemedicine Be Used in Orthopedics?

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | March 1, 2019 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

“While originally appearing to be a specialty that may not suit telemedicine, orthopedics now, unexpectedly, seems to be a good fit for telemedicine.”
Ortho Connections

The question we’re asked most often when sharing the OrthoLive orthopedic telemedicine application is: How can an orthopedist provide care to patients without touching them?

Orthopedics has traditionally been a hands-on career. But the practice is changing rapidly with the onset of new virtual tools that can provide everything from immediate on-site assessment of a workplace injury for worker’s compensation to a more streamlined patient post-op visit for wound care.

With healthcare costs rising rapidly, telehealth is changing workflows in the orthopedic office. Here’s how today’s orthopedist can use the virtual visit to their – and their patient’s advantage.

Examples of Orthopedic Telehealth

“In the next few years, a telemedicine visit could replace an office visit and contain health care costs by preventing unnecessary trips to the ED, reduce hospital readmissions and improve patient satisfaction by catching problems earlier.”

Orthopedics Today

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Orthopedics Today published an article last year that spoke directly to how orthopedists could potentially leverage telehealth in their practice. They discussed out virtual healthcare could extend medicine into rural communities, where there is often a shortage of specialists. Patients suffering from orthopedic issues in these regions must often travel to tertiary centers to receive care. They make the point that “this often involves surgery with frequent trips to a central location for follow-up, and travel expense and planning adds to patient and family stress.”

Conversely, some patients are ready to return to work quickly after injury or surgery. Taking time to travel to the doctor’s office for a five-minute recheck seems like a waste. Adding video to a phone call means that the clinical provider can be satisfied the patient has healed properly while still meeting the needs of these patients.

While many telehealth applications provide on-demand healthcare, orthopedists can use telehealth for routine surgical follow-ups, x-ray diagnostics, and wound care management.

One orthopedist reported:
Telemedicine works very well to evaluate patients for encounters focused on information transfer. Simple follow-ups, routine ­postops, surgical discussions, wound checks, and MRI/lab result reviews can all be handled through telemedicine.

Some of the typical outcomes we’ve seen from the implementation of telehealth in orthopedics and for other specialty-areas include:

  • Johns Hopkins has replaced many of their simple encounters with elderly patients with the virtual visit. They report a 32% reduction in clinical overhead.
  • Becker’s Spine Review reported on shorter patient wait times, and a cost savings of $50 per visit by cutting drive times with telehealth. Practices reported a savings of $24 per patient by using telehealth – and the patients gave these practices a 90% satisfaction score for the visit.

While these are just two examples, they illustrate the intriguing idea that both outcomes can improve while costs are being reduced with telehealth.

How Telehealth Helps Orthopedists Improve

“Improving patient triage to focus on high-risk patients, and harnessing telemedicine to remotely monitor chronic disease patients, will ultimately lower costs, increase efficiency, and generate revenue.”
Becker’s Hospital Review

Telehealth has its place in the orthopedic workflow as a supplement to our traditional practice. Just like the widespread use of smartphones and EMRs, telemedicine applications are tools to help doctors’ work smarter. Orthopedists instinctively understand the need for the right tool for every job; telehealth is the digital tool we need to increase the speed and efficiencies of our clinical practice.

Even the smallest orthopedic practice can benefit from using telehealth. For example, telehealth can help practices:

  • Improve patient satisfaction scores.
    Orthopedists see patients with painful injuries or who have experienced surgery. These patients often struggle to reach their routine follow-up appointment because their mobility is limited by their ailment. But what if your clinical practice could improve the doctor-patient relationship by bringing the virtual visit to the patient? Patients also express frustration with long-wait times to receive appointments and also in your office waiting room. The combination of traveling for a routine appointment while struggling with an orthopedic injury plus long wait times means that the likelihood of a no-show patient increase. Telehealth helps eliminate these issues and improves the patient experience. In fact, one children’s’ hospital in Omaha showed a 50% decrease in missed follow-ups by simply using telemedicine.
  • See more patients while improving physician quality of life.
    Telehealth gives orthopedists a way to increase the volume of patients they see, first, by cutting the amount of time spent per encounter. Telemedicine can also help improve physician quality of life. For example, OrthoLive offers an on-call network of orthopedic providers that can help busy clinicians decrease their after-hours workload.
  • Cut overhead while increasing reimbursement.
    Becker’s reports that the average traditional physician visit costs a patient about $100 instead of just $45 for a virtual visit. For the physician, the overhead costs of using telehealth versus the cost of facility rent, utilities, and staffing salaries are significantly lowered. With practice costs increasing faster than payments according to MGMA, telemedicine offers a way to respond and fix the problem by: Increasing productivity; reducing costs; and, streamlining business operations.

    One of the biggest examples of how telehealth cuts overhead can be found in the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA), who reported a cost savings of more than one billion dollars in six years by using telehealth. The organization went from spending $13,000 per patient in home care and $77,000 per nursing home patient to just $1,300.

Today’s orthopedic patients want more and better access to their doctor. Telemedicine gives clinicians a way to respond faster to patient demands by using the same digital technology that’s at the fingertips of most Americans. Adding telehealth as a new service line for your practice will give your patients what they want while also helping even the smallest orthopedic provider stay competitive with their hospital-owned competitors.

The reality here is that telemedicine is self-selective in the orthopedic space; there are some appointments that require a hands-on approach. But increasingly, clinicians are finding new efficiencies through the use of telehealth tools.

Start the conversation with OrthoLive. We offer a network of on-call providers, a workers-compensation first-response team, and a HIPAA-compliant mobile app that extends orthopedics through the use of telehealth. Contact us for a free consultation today.

Topics: "telehealth", "telemedicine", orthopedic practice, orthopedic surgery, orthopedics

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