Can Telemedicine Be Both Cost-Effective and High Quality?

November 30th, 2021 /
Vikram Maindan
/ 4 Min Read

Is telemedicine cost-effective? Some studies like the one by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine indicate that telehealth is economical and convenient. The study found cost savings per telemedicine visit between $19 and $121. But, what about the quality of care provided by telemedicine? For most medical practices, the goal is not to just lower costs but also to maintain a high level of patient care. Can telemedicine do both?  

In this article, we will discuss:  

  • How do you evaluate the effectiveness of telemedicine?  
  • How can telemedicine technology reduce healthcare costs?  
  • How does telemedicine affect the quality of care?  
  • Is telemedicine more affordable?  

How do you Evaluate the Effectiveness of Telemedicine?  

It’s quite difficult to judge the value of this service without considering telehealth quality of care. Reports from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation found that, overall, patients are satisfied with the use of telemedicine. Yet, there’s much to consider about this.  

First, the same report notes that telemedicine is a constantly evolving field of technology. To be deemed effective in providing superior care, it is critical to assess each tool separately in how it meets the patient’s needs. The report also notes that to be successful, telemedicine must incorporate several things:  

  • Smooth transition into existing medical care for the patient  
  • Routine clinical and administrative functions to be streamlined  
  • All services must be efficient, including appointments, patient record access, billing, and coding  

The standard of care provided by Telemedicine depends on the organization’s ability to maintain HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) compliance and security protocols related to patient health data. 

The effectiveness of telehealth comes down to considering the long-term outcomes for patients who may be more inclined to connect with providers through online conferencing. 

How can Telemedicine Technology Reduce Healthcare Costs?  

Telehealth has surged since the start of the pandemic. According to a report from McKinsey, in April of 2020, telehealth visits grew 78 times higher as compared to February 2020. As of July 2021, telehealth utilization stabilized at 38 times higher than prior to the pandemic.  

But, the question remains, is telemedicine cost-effective and not just a solution for patients who cannot come into the office during a pandemic?  

There are several ways in which telehealth’s cost-effectiveness can be measured:  

  • Telemedicine may help to reduce readmission rates in hospital settings.  
  • Resource pooling across several areas allows for lower costs but a higher quality of care. When smaller locations without access to larger services use the services of a larger organization – pooling resources – it reduces those costs across the board.  
  • Remote monitoring may help to reduce costs as well. If a person is being remotely monitored on a consistent basis, their care needs may be able to be met sooner, reducing the risk of more serious problems later. 

How Does Telemedicine Affect The Quality Of Care?  

The quality of care provided to a patient by a provider is an essential metric to fully understand, especially with the rapid transition in this area of virtual care. However, telemedicine can provide a range of potential benefits.  

Plenty of studies exist that aim to pinpoint the difference telemedicine is making in the world of medical care. A 2021 telehealth survey from SingleCare found that 42 percent of people were extremely satisfied with the service. Another 36 percent were somewhat satisfied, less than 6 percent reported being not satisfied or extremely dissatisfied with the service. 

The COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition offers some insight into this. It pooled physicians to discuss their experiences using the tool and found that, during the pandemic, over 60 percent of physicians found telehealth services to be easy to use no matter where their practice was run (rural, suburban, or urban locations).

Over 50 percent reported that telemedicine offers an improvement in their satisfaction with their work. It also found that 68 percent of physicians wanted to increase the use of this tool in their practice.  

Is Telemedicine More Affordable?  

Considering that telehealth delivers high-quality care, is it an affordable solution for providers?  

There is a constantly rising cost of traditional healthcare. From an economic standpoint, the use of telemedicine is highly cost-effective in many situations. In a study reported by the University of Massachusetts, it was found that telehealth reduced ICU stays by 30 percent. It helped to dramatically reduce healthcare costs – fewer doctors, more room in ICUs, less time spent inpatient, and better long-term outcomes.  

The specific service matters, too. The use of telemedicine for some areas of healthcare is likely to be more cost-effective and affordable than others. The most cost-effective areas include cardiology, diet, eating disorder care, mental health care, and ophthalmology. Other areas that may be less beneficial include airway cancers, dermatology, and asthma, as these are more hands-on areas.  

Affordability for implementing such solutions does not have to be difficult. Many practices, large and small, find that the use of video conferencing software with existing services like patient portals can be quite effective and economical. They also do an excellent job of meeting all HIPAA requirements.  

Key Takeaways   

For chronic care, telemedicine provides a lifeline for people who may not otherwise use it. It saves lives. It may also help to reduce the need for emergency medical care by providing faster, more effective access to doctors right from home. When considering telemedicine’s cost-effective factors, physicians and patients find that this is a service that is desirable. In the short and long term, it works to reduce office care, patient load management struggles, and overall healthcare costs.  

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