At the very onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, healthcare providers and medical professionals across the globe started accelerating the adoption of advanced technologies to serve their patients and improve healthcare delivery as a whole.
One such technological solution that completely revolutionized care delivery in the recent past has been telemedicine. Assimilating the telehealth model into a service line strategy has proven to have multiple benefits, not the least of which is improving patient-centric care and optimizing outcomes.
Physicians who have already used this progressive technology in practice noted that Telemedicine offerings usually consist of everything from consultations with healthcare providers to asynchronous communication regarding patient care to having synchronous, two-way video conferences. This kind of ready access can have a positive effect on patient engagement, and reduce readmissions among other things. How? Read on to know.
1. Telemedicine Increases Access to Care and Ensures Continuity
The US government has declared almost 80% of rural America to be “medically underserved.”
Telemedicine has proved to be nothing less than a boon in some of these rural communities that lack access to proper healthcare, mitigating the burden on patients who might otherwise have to travel great distances to obtain specialty care and helping to address shortages in the medical workforce.
In addition to allowing patients to have remote consultations with physicians and specialists, telemedicine enables rural hospitals to outsource certain critical services such as diagnostics. It can also help lessen physicians’ sense of isolation and resultant burnout.
Seema Verma, Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently stated, “I can’t imagine going back,” suggesting that perhaps the genie is out of the bottle with regard to telehealth.
Many stakeholders in the healthcare sector applaud the expansion that has come alongside the use of telehealth and are seeking its more permanent use beyond the pandemic.
One excellent example of an organization that helped people living in rural communities gain access to virtual care in the recent past would be the Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital in Pennsylvania.
The facility provides one-on-one support to patients from even before their first virtual visit. Front desk staff call patients one day prior to their first appointment to help the patient test their microphone, download necessary apps, and make sure all their preceding tasks are complete. Staff also call patients 30 minutes before the scheduled appointment to check technology functionality, backup and answer any queries they might have at the time.
They keep a record to prioritize where to direct additional support and score patients on the basis of how familiar they are with that technology. Furnishing in-depth logistical support to patients during a time when their care delivery model is undergoing transition—in this case, from in-person to virtual—can ensure care continuity during a crisis and keep patients engaged.
All in all, healthcare providers can easily develop a telehealth platform to ameliorate outcomes and enhance the quality of care even in a remote setting.
2. Telemedicine Streamlines Physician Workflows for Faster Care Delivery
Telehealth has emerged as an effective solution not only for patients but for their care providers alike. Healthcare organizations can now conveniently collect appropriate medical history before the visit, communicate with patients over the video, gain access to all patient history through integrated solutions, and safely prescribe the appropriate medication when necessary.
One example of such an organization would be that of Avera Health, an integrated delivery system based in Sioux Falls, S.D. The provider ventured into telehealth over two decades ago to offer patients in rural parts of the state access to specialist care.
A wide range of specialists — including pharmacists, and emergency medicine as well as critical care physicians — are available at all hours to provide support via video and telephone to facilities that might not otherwise be able to appoint or retain such providers.
Close to 130 rural hospitals use Avera Health’s “eEmergency” service at present, allowing them to handle complex cases. Having this kind of robust support allows many to lean on physician assistants and nurse practitioners for shifts that may not need their attention, improving the call schedule for area physicians.
“People can have careers that are more like what they would have in urban settings,” says Deanna Larson, CEO of Avera’s eCARE division, in a recent interview with The Commonwealth Fund.
“It also helps build the confidence and competency of local staff. One of our physicians helped a nurse practitioner in a very remote area insert a chest tube in a young girl who had been in an ATV accident — guiding the intubation using a camera to see the airway. Those kinds of procedures are very scary for people working in isolation. People begin to doubt themselves”, Larson continues.
With their workflows considerably streamlined, physicians and specialists can provide their patients with more complete, effective care. Telehealth providers can also look at storing data over dedicated virtual servers in order to make it more interoperable and access-friendly over multiple locations. This will make their workflows more efficient and leave extra time on their hands which they can then dedicate to improving patient outcomes.
3. Telemedicine Boosts Preventive Care, which Reduces Unnecessary Hospital Visits
Today, six in ten adults in the United States have a chronic disease.
The U.S. incurs considerably high, yet avoidable, costs related to the treatment of certain chronic conditions. Therefore, formulating robust preventive care modules and tools is the absolute need of the hour as far as the healthcare space is concerned.
Telehealth services are well suited to be used as tools that connect healthcare providers to the patients in need of medical care in order to help manage existing conditions or prevent diseases from worsening in their initial stages.
Patients receive trusted care from live doctors, not chatbots, which can help reduce the in-person visits they may otherwise make to an emergency department, urgent care, or primary care physician’s office. This service may be especially beneficial for those in rural communities, who must often travel long distances to get care.
It wouldn’t be wrong to assume that telemedicine presents healthcare providers with the capability and the opportunity to reach wider populations, and to perform as disease prevention tools for these populations.
Telehealth is surely set to become the future of healthcare delivery. Forward-looking healthcare leaders should be looking at harnessing this state-of-the-art solution to its full potential while maintaining optimal security and compliance in doing so.
Providers should also be on the constant lookout for ways their telemedicine model can be augmented further. Try looking at what your industry counterparts are doing on that front and experiment as often as you can. After all, any innovation can only be as helpful as one wants it to be.
About the Author:
Dr. Leo P. Langlois is an extensively experienced board-certified physician and surgeon, graduated from brown university medical school, completed residency training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and fellowship-trained at the University of California Davis with over 27 years of experience treating chronic disabling conditions and chronic intractable pain who has run a successful private practice in Bakersfield, California since 2003.