How To Use Telemedicine in the Orthopedic Office

Posted by Michael Greiwe, MD | June 28, 2018 |
Michael Greiwe, MD

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“Telemedicine opportunities include ease of subspecialist access, easier postoperative evaluations, decreased travel burden for out-of-town patients, marketing and an increased proportion of actual in-office patient visits being surgical in nature.”
Orthopedics Today

We hear the skepticism all the time; how can an orthopedist practice their craft without touching a patient?

But let’s rethink this question in light of two fundamental truths found in today’s orthopedic practice:

1. Most post-operative visits to an orthopedic surgeon are simple rechecks to look at how a wound is healing. The process is visual, usually ending with either, “You’re healing well,” or, “Let me prescribe an antibiotic.” Most of these visits are less than five minutes long.

2. Telemedicine cuts the time you and your patients spend on these visits. The technology allows doctors to see more patients while reducing overhead. It also allows patients to cut the time and travel costs associated with seeing you for five minutes for a simple yet necessary recheck.

If you’ve joined the ranks of the orthopedic practitioners considering telemedicine, this article will help you begin to visualize how to use the technology in your orthopedic workflows. How can you begin to offer this service to your patients and what benefits can the technology bring to your practice?

Telemedicine in the Orthopedic Practice

“The massive changes in economic, regulatory, and consumer mandates have altered healthcare delivery across the United States.”
Orthopedic Design & Technology

Telemedicine is being used in the orthopedic office today for routine post-surgical rechecks, for MRI, EMG and test follow-up appointments, as a supplement for “brick and mortar” urgent care, in employer-driven “virtual clinics,” and by athletic trainers. While we know telemedicine doesn’t replace every visit, the technology is an excellent tool for established patients for routine care. In the new patient setting, frequently initiating a first-touch point with a patient is all that is needed to initiate a relationship that will last a lifetime. Telemedicine is a tool that improves the orthopedists ability to care for patients and helps set your practice apart from the competition.

Take these examples:

Dr. Alfred Atanda is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon that uses a telemedicine application in his Delaware practice for “simple follow-ups, routine postops, surgical discussions, wound checks, and MRI/lab result reviews.” His outcomes show that these visits reduce patient wait time from 68 minutes on average to just 17.

● In addition to post-op checks, one study used telemedicine to improve clinical coordination between primary doctor and orthopedic specialist. The study reported good quality of care for patients and physician satisfaction with the technology application.

Kaiser Permanente offers a telemedicine option in a virtual clinic model for employers. The model is designed to reduce the use of urgent care and ER visits. If your practice handles workers compensation cases, could this model benefit your community?

The Wall Street Journal says “the revolution is finally here,” touting the benefits of telemedicine in applications from the Mayo Clinic to Doctors Without Borders. The article says telemedicine is being used for patient consultations, physician-to-physician communication, and for remote monitoring. They cite statistics that show 72% of all hospitals and 52% of clinical practices offer a telemedicine option to patients.

● An article in Becker’s Spine suggests that telemedicine is the perfect application for elderly patients that have mobility issues. The article states, “Despite the fact that many elderly patients are technologically adverse, telemedicine is actually one of the most widely used methods of geriatric medical care.”

There are a variety of current applications for telemedicine in the orthopedic workflow that are already established and ready for clinical providers to model. While some of the barriers that we had traditionally seen tied to reimbursement have been lifted, what’s also new is the cloud-based model for telemedicine offered now by providers like OrthoLive.

Technology that had formerly only been affordable to large hospital systems has now been created as a low-cost subscription service available to even the smallest independent provider. It levels the playing field on a proven technology application that allows physicians to provide better care more quickly with a correspondingly positive result on their bottom line.

How Does Telemedicine Benefit the Orthopedic Practice?

“Orthopedic surgeons in particular will find that pressures to cut costs and maintain excellence in healthcare, even while reimbursements continue to decline and patient volume increases, are constant.”
Becker’s Spine Review

The statistics have shown us that telemedicine has a number of clear-cut benefits in the orthopedic practice, including:

● Increased compensation via improved patient volumes. Replacing an inpatient visit for a routine check with a shorter and less overhead-dependent telemedicine visit is one way to improve the bottom line of a practice.

● Increased convenience for the patient because the last thing many of them want to do is to have the hassle of an in-person visit for a five-minute exam. Patients with orthopedic injuries face the discomfort of getting to and from transportation, a trip to your office with the hassles of parking and traffic, and the time spent cooling their heels in your waiting room. When you “breeze in” for a quick consultation, we’ve seen patients grow frustrated. Is offering the alternative of a virtual visit something they might appreciate?

● Better quality of care because the patient will be less likely to skip a virtual visit. The telemedicine visit may even eliminate their use of the ER for an infection or other issues. Since the majority of ER visits are not urgent, this is one way to lessen cost in the American healthcare system.

While these are all clear benefits of the application, some providers are still reluctant to embrace change. Why would these skeptics finally adapt to this new way of providing care?

How and Why Use Telemedicine?

Why have these providers gratefully accepted what some would consider a “disruptive” technology? The answer is the same, whether it’s a more effective medication recently approved by the FDA, a revised orthopedic practice designed to decrease inpatient stays, or virtual visits; these are necessary practice improvements at a time when every visit should add “value.” Becker’s Spine Review notes that one of the biggest trends hitting orthopedic practices in the coming years will be declining reimbursement. Telemedicine applications allow orthopedists to streamline services in a way that benefits both the quality of patient care and the overhead of their practice.

When viewed in this light, adoption of a cloud-based subscription telemedicine application designed especially for the orthopedic practice not only makes sense – it’s a market-driven necessity.

Now that you can visualize the use of telemedicine in your practice, isn’t it time to see an OrthoLive demo in action? Contact us today.

Topics: orthopedic practice