The simplest way to define telemedicine is the delivery of remote healthcare services using technology. It’s no mystery that telemedicine has enabled hospital systems to advance access to care, deliver measurable patient outcomes, and optimize organizational efficiencies.
Specifically, telemedicine platforms have allowed patients and providers alike access to specialty physicians they may otherwise never have. Services such as teleNeurology, telePsychiatry, and teleICU are becoming a common part of the patient care continuum. Driven by physician shortages, geographical barriers, and financial obstacles, telemedicine is now everywhere.
This begs the question: What other challenges can telemedicine help overcome for hospitals, providers and even patients?
Optimizing Hospitalist Staffing
Hospitalist program providers have a lot on their plates – in addition to financial issues, they’re dealing with resourcing obstacles around expanding/shrinking programs and recruiting challenges resulting from short-term resource demands. Telemedicine can relieve many of these difficulties. Hospitalist programs and telemedicine are a natural fit – the scalable, flexible nature of an enterprise-wide telemedicine platform enables optimization of hospitalist resources across facilities, enabling the best use of limited resources, coverage optimization, and expense management.
When demand for hospitalist coverage exceeds existing provider availability, it is unlikely that a hospitalist program can add a part-time or partial shift. This means that any new full-time resources are underutilized, equating to loss in revenue. The use of a telemedicine platform enables the fractionalization of hospitalist capacity across multiple facilities to avoid the unwanted expense of unnecessary hiring.
Around-the-clock coverage is another ongoing issue when staffing hospitalists. When programs need night-time coverage, but the demand doesn’t justify the addition of costly nocturnists, telemedicine can enable the sharing of individual hospitalists across multiple hospitals or facilities, maximizing their utilization and revenue, even at night.
Now, what if you need a hospitalist tomorrow – or even right now? Staffing a hospitalist in a short time frame is challenging when there’s not enough lead time. Costs can escalate to twice or three times the market rate in order to meet these last-minute coverages that may require emergency privileges. Whether for a single shift, a weekend, a month, or longer, telemedicine can facilitate the rapid deployment of hospitalists to disparate hospitals and enable doctors to pick up incremental hours – limiting the obstacles faced when filling these unexpected coverage gaps.
Revolutionizing Outpatient Care
As hospital-based telemedicine continues to reshape the patient experience, its effects expand beyond hospital walls revolutionizing post-acute outpatient care. Widespread access to high-speed internet, devices with high definition cameras, and demand for convenience are dramatically changing the way patients interact with health services and vice versa.
Remote follow-up visits are a primary example of how telemedicine can provide benefits to patients and practices. The inconvenience of going into a medical office – such as travel time and missed work – can be reduced or eliminated altogether. In addition, remote follow-up visits minimize last minute cancellations and no-shows, improving patient outcomes and provider efficiencies.
Reviewing test results is another necessity in outpatient care. It is important for providers to share the results. Before telemedicine, results were shared by phone, often hurting communication effectiveness and resulting in a non-reimbursable encounter. Real-time video visits eliminate both of these pain points, providing a higher-touch patient-provider exchange that is usually reimbursable to the provider.
But perhaps the greatest impact of telemedicine in outpatient care can be seen in the area of chronic care management (CCM). As the number of people in the U.S. with chronic conditions like arthritis, diabetes and heart disease rapidly continues to climb, access to quality care for these patients puts a heavy burden on both the patient and provider. Telemedicine eases some of this load, allowing an easier connection between the two for coordinated care anywhere, any time.
With telemedicine fueling successful outcomes across acute as well as post-acute care, it’s easy to envision a not so distant future where remote care is the norm rather than a specialty service.
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.