As healthcare reform efforts continue challenging providers to push the envelope in terms of care efficiency and effectiveness, telemedicine is becoming an increasingly popular treatment avenue for practitioners across the entire medical community.
And for providers in the following five specialties — which are particularly well suited to a virtual care environment — telemedicine is an especially hot trend.
To a parent, there’s nothing scarier than having a sick or injured child and not knowing whether the ailment is serious enough to warrant a trip to the hospital or doctor’s office. And many parents end up erring on the side of caution — and dropping everything to get their child in front of a medical professional who can ease their worried minds.
Unfortunately, as explained here, there’s a huge shortage of pediatric care providers in the US — especially in rural areas. That often results in overcrowded waiting rooms and long wait times. And for those families residing in the country’s most remote areas, that wait time usually comes on top of a long drive. So, while the need for care in pediatric cases is often urgent, accessing that care can be highly inconvenient — which is precisely why telemedicine is such a great fit for this particular patient population.
Of course, a telemedicine visit is no substitute for emergency care, but it can help prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency room. It’s also a great alternative for children with chronic conditions like epilepsy, asthma, or diabetes, who require regular check-ups with their doctors.
According to this telemedicine report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “the use of telemedicine technologies can help reduce missed appointment rates, increase adherence to recommended therapies, and help ensure the appropriate frequency of recommended physician visits.” Talk about a win-win-win.
According to stats cited in this Forbes article, nearly one in four adults will deal with a mental health disorder at some point in their lives, yet less than half will actually seek treatment. There are a number of possible reasons for that disparity. Among them: lack of adequate care options in isolated geographic regions, patient reluctance to seek care in a brick-and-mortar office (due to shame or anxiety, for example), or time and cost constraints that make accessing care extremely difficult.
Telehealth offers a solution to all of those barriers. As explained in this American Psychological Association (APA) article, mental health services already have a long — and successful — history in the telemedicine arena: “The practice has been in place for almost 20 years at the Department of Veterans Affairs and other government organizations that serve patients in rural areas,” the article states.
Now, with telemedicine becoming more prevalent across the entire healthcare spectrum — especially in the mental health space — even more patients are benefiting from this option. “Those in the telehealth trenches say it improves access to care for people who live in remote areas or who, due to illness or mobility problems, can’t leave home,” the APA article goes on to say. “The practice also enhances psychological services by allowing psychologists to support clients between visits.” And because so much of mental health care is conversation-based, it truly is an ideal fit for delivery via a telemedicine platform.
Furthermore, with videoconferencing tools like FaceTime becoming more commonplace, patients are becoming more open to — and comfortable with — video-based interactions. In fact, as the APA article suggests, “As people become more accustomed to the convenience of online commerce and keeping up with friends and family via social networking websites, interacting with a therapist online may become just another convenience that’s expected.”
Perhaps the greatest frustration for patients seeking urgent care services is the unbearably long wait time they often face after arriving at a facility or clinic. And that’s after they’ve overcome any number of challenges to simply get to that facility. After all, many patients go to urgent care when their symptoms arise unexpectedly — which means they haven’t planned ahead to account for things like transportation or childcare.
For these patients, telemedicine can be a great — and much less burdensome — option. That’s especially true for those patients seeking care for things like colds and flus; ear, nose, and throat issues; skin conditions and insect bites; urinary tract infections; or emergency medication refills.
In addition to cutting down patient wait times, urgent care clinics that offer telemedicine services can typically increase the number of patients they see each day. Plus, they can see patients who otherwise might not have been able to access their care due to geographic isolation.
Additionally, as explained in this Urgent Care Magazine article, multisite urgent care facilities can use this technology to “load-balance.” In other words, practitioners in locations that are experiencing slower traffic can jump in to assist at busier locations. Telemedicine also allows generalist practitioners to quickly and easily refer patients to any specialists they need to see—without having to set up appointments at other office locations.
And the benefits of urgent care telemedicine aren’t limited to facilities dedicated to urgent care. In fact, primary care practices can leverage this technology to offer urgent care services to their regular patients. That way, they can avoid losing business to urgent care clinics.
According to this Medical Economics article, pain is the top complaint primary care physicians hear from their patients — and it costs the US healthcare system $600 billion a year in services and lost productivity. Furthermore, pain management accounts for almost 70 million doctor visits annually.
With telemedicine, though, a good portion of those visits could occur in a virtual environment — thus increasing care efficiency and, according to research cited in the Medical Economics article, care effectiveness. In fact, in that study, patients who stayed in contact with their doctors via telemedicine were “twice as likely to report 30% less pain after 12 months. Researchers also noted that fewer telehealth patients started taking or escalated doses of opioids.”
Telemedicine also affords patients the opportunity to consult with specialized providers who have the expertise necessary to help those patients manage their pain without as much reliance on potentially dangerous prescription medications — namely, opioids. Whereas many generalized providers might prescribe such medications to provide their patients with immediate relief, specialists can often identify opportunities in which alternative forms of treatment — like physical therapy, chiropractic care, and acupuncture — may provide long-term relief without the negative side effects of addictive pharmaceuticals.
And with telemedicine, it’s much easier to refer patients to those specialists, even if they aren’t geographically close. “Collaborative telemedicine for chronic pain helps patients since it brings together multiple medical minds to prescribe medical solutions to health challenges,” explains this Arizona Pain article. “It also reduces the likelihood of gaps or redundancies in care.”
Making a trip to the doctor’s office is hard enough; for women who are pregnant or experiencing painful gynecological issues, it can be downright awful. So, it’s no surprise that most women would prefer to consult with their doctors virtually whenever possible.
And in the OB/GYN field, there are plenty of use cases for visits conducted via telemedicine — rather than in person. For example, patients who are diagnosed with conditions that require frequent check-ups — like gestational diabetes, hypertension, or preeclampsia — are perfect candidates for telemedicine appointments.
In addition to providing patients with a convenient alternative to traditional office visits, telemedicine offers doctors an efficient way to not only monitor patient symptoms closely, but also bill and receive payment for check-ups conducted by phone or video call. Other OB/GYN care scenarios that are well suited to telemedicine include:
- Annual exam follow-up (e.g., providing blood work or other screening results and instructing the patient on any suggested lifestyle changes or symptom self-monitoring)
- Family planning services (e.g., adjusting birth control prescriptions or assisting with lifestyle modifications for women trying to conceive)
- Postpartum monitoring (e.g., checking in with women who are suffering from postpartum depression or other post-birth issues)
While the potential benefits of telemedicine certainly aren’t limited to these specialties, they are particularly great fits for virtual care delivery. To see an expanded list of the most popular telemedicine specialties and services, check out this resource.