“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?

Telehealth Value Proposition #1 – Increasing Access to Treatment

Using the Internet to connect clinicians with patients in rural markets makes tremendous sense. Rural hospitals have struggled and Becker’s reports 85 have closed in the last eight years. These numbers are devastating for rural communities that often rely on community hospitals as their sole provider. Hospital closures create geographic barriers to receiving treatment that can have a negative impact on healthcare outcomes, according to Patient Engagement HIT. The article suggests that rural communities typically have older, sicker, and poorer residents, making the loss of a rural community provider very troubling.

With no community hospital or clinic nearby, patients must travel for their healthcare. This could mean time off work or other hardships that are time consuming and expensive. In this environment, it is safe to assume that some patients delay preventative treatments.

Yet, extending patient care into rural communities can be as close as a cell phone with telehealth. A virtual consultation has been documented as a way to extend treatment across geographies. Since older Americans are often plagued with a variety of chronic diseases that require long-term maintenance, the virtual telehealth visit is a way to extend treatment to these populations when they otherwise would have to travel “over the river and through the woods” to receive treatment.

An EY report suggests that there are also benefits for providers; extending access to rural communities increases market share for clinicians, giving them a new source of revenue by extending their patient base and service line offerings. In today’s competitive environment, extending access with telehealth lets hospitals and medical practices reach new markets to improve their bottom line.

Telehealth Value Proposition #2 – Improving Patient-Centered Care

Telehealth brings the clinician right to where the patient lives, works, or wherever they have an Internet connection. It is changing the doctor/patient relationship by once again making the patient the center of the healthcare delivery model.

Telehealth improves the convenience of care for patients struggling with mobility issues. Remote monitoring tools allow patients to remain in their homes even when working to control long-term chronic conditions. Providers and patients can be empowered through telehealth technology; telemedicine is a particularly effective tool for patient education initiatives linked to population health metrics. Telehealth allows a cost-effective and efficient model for engaging patients in their own clinical care. Studies show that patient outcomes improve through telehealth; patient compliance can be monitored and communication improved so that patients have the tools they need to better manage their care.

Virtual visits are also an effective way to engage and interact with elderly patients. A Johns Hopkins study showed that these patients often have poor medication adherence, which cost the U.S. up to $300 billion in avoidable readmission and service utilization. Telehealth can extend treatment into these patients’ homes in a way that helps them cope more effectively with long-term conditionswhile keeping them engaged with caregivers. One study suggested that the doctors leveraging telehealth believed these virtual visits would improve patient health outcomes in the next six months – even with chronically ill and elderly patients.

Telehealth Value Proposition #3 – Cutting Costs

Both doctors and patients are suffering from spiraling healthcare costs. High deductible insurance premiums have increased consumer out-of-pocket costs. Kaiser Family Foundation cites the average deductible a $4,000 or higher. Studies show that patients will skip needed healthcare services due to the high out-of-pocket costs. But what if the patient lives in a rural area or outside an urban center where a specialist resides. The travel associated with a traditional visit only tacks on costs, from time off work and childcare to gasoline and parking.

Telehealth can benefit the patient by eliminating the travel costs associated with a medical visit. One health system tracked the savings and found that patients saved $6.4 million annually just in travel costs alone. The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center says every time a patient can be seen in a virtual visit online over going to an urgent clinic or an emergency, the system saves $86.64. 40% of UPMC telehealth patients say they would skip treatment if a virtual visit weren’t available.

For providers, the reduced overhead when comparing a virtual telehealth visit to a traditional visit is a strong positive for hospitals and medical practices. US News & World Report studied the cost reduction and found that while the average in-person healthcare encounter costs $125, the average telehealth visit is just $45.

The Telehealth Value Proposition for Your Practice

“Healthcare has never been shy to embrace innovation and technology. Physicians on the other hand, have been more like the bulls of healthcare not to say stuck in their ways, but definitely a tougher crowd to convince. The first few [virtual visits] might be conducted a little bit hesitantly, but then physicians start to realize, Oh yeah, I m actually doing a better job here.”

American Council on Science and Health

These were just three of the benefits of telehealth. Other benefits include better patient outcomes, reduced wait times, and even a reduction in costly patient no-shows, which are often a real problem for small practice networks.

OrthoLive offers a customized telehealth subscription service suitable for the orthopedic patient. Our application is a supplement for orthopedic on-call and as an outsourced service for workers compensation. Contact OrthoLive to discuss the specific benefits of telehealth for your practice today.

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