Telehealth is becoming institutionalized in the medical practice. While we know the service, which uses digital technology to connect clinicians and their patients is increasing, all signs point to the normalization of this practice in the coming years.
If your practice has not adapted to the use of digital technology, here are some of the trends that will impact your efforts to build a business based on serving patients in the future.
Claims Data Shows Increase in Telemedicine Usage
FAIR Health recently released a white paper on the locations of healthcare service delivery around the United States. It particularly tracked new care delivery models, such as the digital service offerings found in telehealth.
Their study analyzed 25 billion private claims records to create a baseline on demographics, utilization trends, diagnoses, procedures, and costs. The data showed that from 2011 to 2016, telehealth usage increased exponentially by 960% in rural areas, 629% in urban locales, and overall, by 643% nationally.
The study also determined that usage of these tools in urban areas took a big jump, even over rural areas. They determined by 2016, five states led the nation in telehealth adoption:
- South Dakota
In 2016, the age brackets for the highest telehealth usage rates were most closely associated with those aged 31 to 60 years old, who led the market in 56% of all telehealth claims. The biggest volume of claims came from mental health disorders followed by acute respiratory infections.
Understanding these numbers is crucial for clinical providers and administrators, who increasingly seek ways to create competitive differentiation in a crowded marketplace. To date, all data points toward the increasing utilization of digital technologies to deliver care.
Telehealth Trends and Your Practice
Across the country, providers are shifting the care paradigm toward telehealth. Some of the trends influencing this shift include:
- Increased physician adoption. Physician reluctance to shift toward digital tools is declining along with the retirement of Baby Boomers. Merritt Hawkins reports physician adoption of telehealth increased 340% from 2015 to 2018. 69% of doctors now say they are willing to try telehealth. By 2022, the data anticipates as many as 590,000 physicians will use telemedicine as a regular part of their service offerings.
- Health systems are leading the way toward telehealth adoption. The American Hospital Association reports 76% of U.S. hospitals connect and receive payment for telehealth services. The states have responded with widespread reimbursement for some form of digital consult, as has CMS, who continues to expand telehealth coverage. Systems such as the VA, continue to lead the way toward telehealth, and outcomes show the success of their programs to provide care to our nation’s veterans on any digital device.
- Patients care more about the convenience of care over quality. NRC Health’s 2019 Healthcare Consumer Trends Report showed that our patients want more from providers than good care. Patients report that they are increasingly frustrated by long wait times, inadequate customer care from support teams, billing, and insurance. While hospitals understand the need to focus on patient experience, the survey cited the increasingly urgent need to respond to these consumer demands. The study surveyed more than 223,000 healthcare consumers and found that 51% said convenience and access to care are the top factors influencing their care decisions. It should be noted that those numbers exceed the quality of care as a concern by almost 20%.
- Work/life balance for clinicians is an increasing concern. At a time when clinical provider shortages will place increasing pressure on our nation’s healthcare providers, these clinicians are already feeling burnt out. A recent Harvard report indicates our physicians are increasingly battle weary. The report called it “a public health crisis that urgently demands action.” According to the report, one-half of all doctors report exhaustion, depression, job dissatisfaction, and an overall sense of failure. If we fail to address these issues, it will continue to have a negative impact on the mental health of our doctors and the care our patients receive.
But telehealth also positively impacts the work/life balance of these clinicians. For the organizations that offer virtual care, some doctors can log in when they’re free to accept telehealth visits. This could even be from a home office, reducing their need to travel to a remote hospital. Typically these visits are low stress and allow the clinician to choose care delivery at times when it is convenient for their schedules. The potential for positively impacting physician burnout is high.
- Desire to decrease administrative tasks. Studies indicate that physicians experience an inordinate number of administrative tasks. The American College of Physicians (ACP) has for years listed the reduction in administrative tasks high on their list of goals for the doctors they serve. These tasks add extensive overhead to even the smallest medical practice, and the ACP states:
“Excessive administrative tasks also divert time and focus from more clinically important activities of physicians and their staffs, such as providing actual care to patients and improving quality, and may prevent patients from receiving timely and appropriate care or treatment.”
Telemedicine can reduce the burden of administrative tasks for doctors and other clinical teams. Virtual visits are simply more efficient than seeing patients in person. Many telemedicine apps now connect straight to the EHR, making coding and reimbursement much easier.
- Increasing access to care is a growing need. Patients no longer have the time to take off from work to travel to a clinic to be seen. The issue is an important one both for time-pressured urban consumers and for patients in rural settings who often have to travel miles to be seen by a remote specialist located outside their hometown. The impact of telemedicine is high in both these cases.
As technology improves we can bring the virtual house call to our patients, and reduce the time and money they spend traveling to a remote office. These visits cut practice overhead and increase the volume of patients to our practices. They can be conducted in off-hours, as well, which can provide a small clinic with a completely new service line that can add much-needed revenue.
All of these trends point toward increased usage of telemedicine tools as a standard for care delivery in the future. OrthoLive offers orthopedic practices a way to use telehealth technology to improve their clinical delivery, practice overhead, and work/life balance. Talk to our team today.