Telemedicine supports efforts to significantly improve the quality of healthcare by increasing accessibility and efficiency. It reduces the need to travel, makes providing clinical support easier, overcomes geographic barriers, and can improve patient outcomes. With more consistent, ongoing connectivity, patients and physicians can work more closely together to reach therapeutic goals.
Telemedicine also is a boon for healthcare providers, because it can reduce burnout while allowing them to handle more patients. Thus, given the current focus on efforts to contain costs, improve the delivery of care to all segments of the population, and meet consumer demand, telemedicine has the capacity to revolutionize the delivery of healthcare.
Here’s an in-depth look at 4 ways telemedicine — in this case the use of secure, face-to-face videoconferencing over the Internet — is dramatically changing the face of healthcare.
1) Increased accessibility and efficiency
With telemedicine, physicians can provide healthcare information, consults, and services to clients at multiple locations. Overcoming geographic barriers is especially crucial in remote areas where people may have to travel miles to see a provider — even if they feel too ill. It’s also more convenient for ongoing monitoring of chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension or for those who need post-discharge follow-up.
Another group that places high value on the accessibility of telehealth are the parents of children under the age of 18. This is not surprising giving the demands on the time of parents, especially those who work full-time. It can be a daunting challenge to schedule a well-child exam, get a prescription for a child with the sniffles, or have a suspicious mole examined when you are trying to get everyone to work, school, and volleyball practice on time.
All of these factors lead to increased efficiency, both for patients and caregivers.
2) Reduced costs
Telemedicine is already playing an important role in containing costs. One example is its use in home and hospice care environments given today’s aging population. The 65-years-and-older population is exploding without a concomitant increase in funds for healthcare services.
It is estimated that by 2030, individuals 65 years or older will represent 20% of the US population. Therefore, Medicare and Social Security programs will face financial challenges as the ratio of individuals paying taxes to retirees receiving benefits will drastically diminish. Telemedicine can help provide care to the aging population at lower costs and at greater convenience to a group that may be experiencing decreased mobility.
3) Improved patient outcomes
Study after study shows that patients want the option to see their doctor via video. Two-thirds of consumers say they’ve delayed seeking care for a health problem. People do this because it costs too much (23%), it takes too long to see the doctor (23%), they think the issue will go away on its own (36%), or they’re just too busy (13%).
That’s why one in five patients would switch doctors for video visits. They prefer telemedicine’s immediacy, low cost, and ability to provide more intimate, one-on-one consultations. Through increased access and a more connected level of care, physicians and patients can work together to achieve their health goals. Patients are more likely to connect with a doctor via video, thereby getting the care they need to improve outcomes.
4) Reduced burnout and new revenue streams for doctors
Many physicians report having very little time to relax or spend time with their families. A blog post from KevinMD describes his experience:
“When I graduated from residency, in an effort to spend more time with my family, I took a shift work position in a hospital. Working 12- and 24-hour shifts meant that I could be home on my off days, but it also meant that nights, weekends, and holidays were all fair game. In addition, driving to the hospital required significant commuting time; my drive home after a 24-hour shift could easily be over an hour, compounding my exhaustion.”
The long and erratic hours took a toll on his emotional and physical health. He started feeling as if he was processing his patients, instead of caring for them. He became one of the growing number of physicians who turned to telemedicine to reverse the effects of burnout. He has eliminated his horrible commute and opened up time to see his family.
Physicians using telemedicine report feeling empowered by the ability to see patients without having to drive long distances and say that the appreciation they get from their patients makes them remember why they entered medicine in the first place.
There are additional benefits for physicians. Through telemedicine, clinicians are able to handle more patients than traditional care models would typically allow. With that in mind, many are increasing their revenue streams, despite the fact that a typical video visit is typically far less expensive than an office consultation. It’s a win-win for both physicians and their patients.
For all these reasons and more, telemedicine is gaining ground and is inevitably the way of the future. According to WIRED magazine, “video is about the become the way we all visit the doctor.”