Understanding The Challenges and Opportunities For Patients in Telemedicine

Updated on April 8, 2024

The benefits of telehealth — for both providers and their patients — are plentiful, but like any technological revolution, it’s not without its downsides. For some patients, telemedicine actually presents more challenges.

However, that’s not a reason to avoid the technology. Instead, it’s crucial that providers understand both sides of the coin in order to offer care that best suits their patients’ needs. Below, we’ve outlined two challenges and three opportunities that telehealth currently presents:

Opportunity: Personalized Care

Patients like having telehealth options — in fact, a survey of patients during the coronavirus pandemic found that 91% were satisfied with video-based appointments, while 86% were satisfied with phone calls. 

A big reason? The quality of care. Telehealth allows practitioners to meet patients in the most private and personal setting — their homes — and obtain a high level of detail about the behavioral, situational and emotional factors affecting their condition. 

“Personomics” was coined as a term for this kind of care. It involves looking at patients on a completely individual level in order to improve the quality of their treatment and recovery. Telemedicine facilitates this approach by allowing patients to communicate at length with their doctors in an environment where they feel comfortable. 

Beyond that, telehealth allows providers to follow patients more easily along their healthcare journeys, checking in as needed and gathering key data each time. The result is a patient base that feels understood, humanized and looked after. 

Challenge: Digital Literacy

In an age of exponential digital expansion, some people are bound to feel left behind. That’s particularly true of older patients who came of age long before Facebook, TikTok or Zoom calls. 

Smartphone, tablet and computer literacy among people over 65 has grown sharply in recent years; however, they still lag behind other age groups. As of 2022, for example, 61% of people 65 and up owned a smartphone, while just 44% owned a tablet or computer. That means millions of senior patients may not have access to — or may lack the literacy to use — the technology that our current telehealth landscape depends on. 

For these patients, plus those who live in remote areas or otherwise don’t have access to the technology needed, telehealth can feel exclusionary. Understanding these patients’ frustrations is critical to any strategy that aims to include them. 

Opportunity: Cost and Convenience

There’s plenty of evidence that telemedicine saves patients money. One study, for example, found that the average cancer patient saved between $147 and $186 per appointment compared to an in-person visit. 

While cost savings may not be applicable in all medical cases, patients can save on the ancillary costs associated with in-person appointments. By staying home to talk with their doctor, patients save money on gas and parking, plus they could avoid potential costs for on-site testing and facility use.

What’s not arguable, though, is the convenience of telehealth. By meeting virtually, patients can skip lengthy commutes to offices. That can be a big help for anyone, but especially those who live far from their doctor or may have trouble taking time off of work. 

Additionally, this added convenience allows patients to be more flexible when booking appointments. They may be able to get a faster consultation or receive care at a time that works better for them. 

Challenge: Limited Examinations

Telehealth has its limitations; patients who require certain kinds of physical examinations may struggle to get the help they need over a video call, and many conditions cannot be diagnosed virtually. 

Of course, no telehealth strategy is designed to be fully comprehensive. Instead, providers are trusted to determine when a patient needs in-person care instead of a virtual visit. A high-quality intake process can play a major role here.

There’s also the reality that, despite telehealth’s popularity, some patients simply prefer engaging face-to-face with their doctor.

Opportunity: Longevity

While telemedicine has clear benefits in the short term, it also has enormous upside over the course of a patient’s life. By integrating virtual visits with a sophisticated portal system, patients can track their own healthcare journeys over time. And providers can follow along, creating reliable and trustworthy relationships while also avoiding any miscommunication or lost records that may occur when a patient has to switch providers.

Telemedicine is also poised to reap the benefits of advancements in AI and other technology, creating more opportunities for providers to enhance the convenience, availability, flexibility and personalized care that telehealth offers. The key to this, though, is understanding where the technology’s strengths and weaknesses lie — for both providers and the patients they serve.