As recently as 10 years ago, telemedicine was generally thought of as the ability for remote clinicians to conduct phone consults, meaning a phone interaction with patients or with another physician on a remote basis. That is no longer the case. Advancements in telecommunications coupled with 1) the growth of video technology, 2) the general acceptance of consumer-type applications such as Skype or FaceTime, and 3) the normalization of video-to-video communications, have transformed the very definition of telemedicine. Today, most people expect telemedicine to be more of a video-to-video exchange.
This new paradigm in adoption can be seen across the healthcare continuum, including the acute setting where response time is critical and patient care is more complex. A few short years ago, the notion that telemedicine could be deployed effectively in a clinically complex case such as a critically ill stroke patient was a fairly foreign concept.
The industry remained skeptical regarding this type of use of telemedicine until recently. Today, data exists that demonstrates why a comprehensive telemedicine program can be good for business: significantly reducing a hospital’s response time in a consistent and sustainable manner; improving coverage and volume; reducing operational costs; and generating actionable data for further improvement.
Dramatically Reduced Response Times
One segment of telemedicine that continues to gain prominence is neurology. Telemedicine makes it possible to connect a highly qualified, board-certified neurologist with a patient in minutes. In fact, one leading provider notes 11 minutes as the approximate response time from when it first receives a hospital’s request for a neurologist. Imagine a live setting where the neurologist is in a different wing of the hospital or clear across campus, they may not get there within 11 minutes; or a rural market where there is no access to a neurologist or he/she is at home and they have to drive in.
Improved Coverage & Volume
Many hospitals may lack access to providers for every medical specialty needed despite the size of the organization. While the hospital may have a solid team of neurologists the organization may still be left with a gap in provider coverage due to fluctuating patient volume and need. Another scenario is a multi-site hospital system with what’s known as a load balancing issue. This simply means while the system has a great psychiatrist at one location, it has no coverage at its other facilities. It would be impractical and inefficient for that lone psychiatrist to spend their time clocking windshield hours driving between sites. A suitable telemedicine program can rapidly fix coverage shortage and load imbalances.
Lowered Costs & Improved Revenue
Taking the previous scenario one step further, if a patient comes in to a hospital system that doesn’t have a neurologist or stroke care, they will be transferred out. That leakage equals loss of revenue. Or, perhaps a Locum is brought in at a high cost to temporary fill a gap that may or may not align with institutional standards. Moreover, in cases of behavioral health, patients are required to sit and wait for a board-certified psychiatrist to see them before being cleared for admittance or discharge. Here the boarding costs add up and could be avoided through an effective implementation of telepsychiatry.
Data. Data. Data.
By its very nature, telemedicine can produce actionable data for optimized business and clinical outcomes and a more consistent performance. A hospital can garner insights into the performance of its various clinical programs. It is even possible for that same system to then compare its performance to that of other peers or to the bedside interaction. Internally they can compare the performance of their physicians among each other, segmenting how its tele-model compares to its on-premise model.
Telemedicine as an enterprise-wide solution can revolutionize healthcare by providing tangible benefits to the bottom line and improved patient outcomes. Looking ahead, the hospital of the future may no longer recognize a distinction between telemedicine vs traditional bedside treatment.
Hai Tran is COO/CFO of SOC Telemed, the leader in hospital-based telemedicine. He has over 20 years’ experience with pharma, health and technology companies. He holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Richmond.