By Rahul Varshneya
As COVID-19 began to wreak havoc across the United States in 2020, medical professionals and care providers started looking at advanced technologies to find new ways to serve their patients and improve healthcare delivery while maintaining distance to mitigate the risk of infection.
One such technological innovation that has completely revolutionized health care delivery has been the expansion of telemedicine. Assimilating the telehealth model into a service line strategy has proven to have numerous benefits, not the least of which is making the shift to value-based, patient-centric care seamless.
In a recent survey conducted by Science Soft, physicians who have already used this progressive technology in practice observed the following:
Source: Science Soft
Telemedicine offerings encompass everything – from asynchronous communication patient care, to live synchronous, two-way video conferences. This sort of ready access can have various positive impacts on care delivery.
Below, we will discuss a few of those..
1) Telemedicine Increases Care Access and Helps Boost Treatment Adherence
The government has declared that close to 80% of rural America is “medically underserved.”
Telehealth technology has become a boon in some of these rural areas that lack proper access to healthcare. It saves both cost as well as time for patients who may otherwise have to travel great distances just to see their providers, and helps tackle shortages in the medical workforce.
One excellent example of an organization that has helped people living in rural landscapes of America gain access to healthcare services in the recent past is the Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, based in Pennsylvania.
This facility furnishes one-on-one assistance for patients who benefit from it even before their first virtual visit.
Front desk staff call patients a day before their first appointment to help the patient download necessary apps, test their microphone, and ensure all their prerequisites are in place. A staff member also calls patients 30 minutes before their scheduled appointment to answer any queries they might have regarding the telehealth consultation.
By furnishing in-depth logistical support for patients during a time when their care delivery model is being completely overhauled—in this case, from in-person to virtual visits—the facility has not only managed to ensure care continuity during a crisis, but also kept patients flowing in.
Additionally, telemedicine gives rural hospitals the option to outsource certain vital services such as diagnostics.
A number of renowned stakeholders in the healthcare space are applauding the convenience that has come alongside the use of telehealth during COVID-19, and are seeking its more permanent use beyond the pandemic.
Forward looking healthcare leaders should definitely look to adopt telehealth to enhance quality of care and ameliorate patient outcomes even in a remote setting.
2) Telemedicine Streamlines Physician Workflows and Accelerates the Care Delivery Process
Telemedicine has surfaced as the ideal solution not only for care seekers, but for providers as well. This has been made possible in part because of the expanded use of telemedicine due to the new emergency waivers sanctioned during the pandemic.
Healthcare providers can now easily communicate with their patients over live video, gain access to all their medical history and records instantaneously through integrated solutions such as patient portals, and safely prescribe medicines over the telemedicine platform itself.
One example of an organization that has been leveraging telemedicine’s potential for quite some time would be that of Avera Health, an integrated delivery system based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Under this system, a wide range of specialists — including emergency medicine, critical care physicians, as well as pharmacists — are available round-the-clock to provide support via video and telephone to rural facilities that wouldn’t otherwise have been able to appoint or retain them.
At present, nearly 130 rural hospitals are utilizing Avera Health’s “eEmergency” service, which is allowing them to handle complex cases more easily. 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.
Since telemedicine gives physicians the opportunity to furnish effective care right from the comfort of their own homes or clinics, and significantly lowers time spent travelling or doing bureaucratic paperwork, it can also help lessen physicians’ sense of isolation and the resultant burnout.
In addition to this, by having their day-to-day workflows streamlined through telehealth, physicians and specialists can provide their patients with more complete, effective care.
3) Telemedicine Promotes Preventive Care and Reduces Unnecessary Hospital Visits
Today, close to six in ten adults in the US suffer from some form of chronic illness.
The U.S. incurs substantially high, yet avertable, costs associated with the treatment of certain chronic conditions. Therefore, having robust preventive care models and techniques in place is a vital need in this hour as far as healthcare spending is concerned.
Telemedicine can conveniently be leveraged as a tool that connects healthcare providers to the patients in need of medical care. This can easily help manage existing conditions, or prevent diseases from worsening further.
Patients receive trusted care from live care providers, not chatbots. This can help reduce the in-person visits they may otherwise make to an emergency department, urgent care or their primary care physician’s office.
This care delivery model may be especially advantageous for those in rural communities, who are often forced to travel long distances to gain access to the most basic healthcare-related services.
Telemedicine presents before healthcare providers the opportunity to reach wider populations. It can perform as an effective disease prevention tool for these populations and makes the shift to patient-centric care a seamless one.
Telemedicine is very well on its way to become the future of healthcare delivery.
Forward-looking healthcare organizations should be looking at ways they can harness this state-of-the-art solution to attain its full potential, while maintaining optimal compliance and safeguarding personal health information.
Healthcare providers should be on the constant lookout for technologies and best practices through which their telemedicine offering can be enhanced and made more functional.
Trying to look at what your industry counterparts are doing on that front and experimenting as often as you can will take you a long way in utilizing telemedicine to its complete potential. Afterall, any innovation can only be as effective as you envision it to be!
Rahul Varshneya is the co-founder and president of Arkenea, a custom healthcare software development company. Rahul has been featured as a technology thought leader across Bloomberg TV, Forbes, HuffPost, Inc, among others.