When I talk to other doctors about telemedicine, I often get asked what types of medical conditions or treatments can be done via telemedicine. Some doctors aren’t sure how they would deliver care virtually. I’ve found this especially for medical professionals in very “hands-on” specialties who are used to doing physical exams.
My answer: Why not re-design how you offer follow-up care? Why not replace those simple in-office follow-ups with convenient, quick virtual appointments?
While there are many medical conditions that we’ve long been treating remotely (think about all those late-night patient phone calls), there’s one type of appointment that’s a perfect candidate for telemedicine across many specialties. In many cases, we schedule follow-up appointments with patients simply to monitor their progress, note any reported symptoms, talk through medications, review lab results, and generally check-in. Why not offer this type of follow-up care virtually?
I have to admit, I’m personally invested in this approach. As an ER doctor, I see too many patients who don’t need to be there. Often I see patients who simply haven’t been taking their medications correctly because they’re unsure about side effects, or have gotten their multiple medications mixed-up. Some of these patients could have avoided the hospital all together if they’d just been able to see their doctor regularly and monitor their chronic condition.
Similarly, sometimes patients end up back in the hospital after a minor surgery or procedure because they didn’t have access to appropriate follow-up care. As anyone who has worked in hospital settings knows, there’s a constant battle going on between unnecessary readmissions.
Recent studies have shown that follow-up care provided via telemedicine can help improve patient outcomes on anything from surgery recovery to diabetes. For patients who are convalescing, mobility-challenged or simply busy, being able to get follow-up care virtually is a godsend.
And whether you’re working in outpatient or inpatient settings, offering virtual follow-up care to patients can help ensure they keep necessary appointments and stay out of the hospital whenever possible. That means reduced hospital readmissions, better care coordination and better overall patient outcomes.
This approach to telemedicine could be transformative when we think about battling chronic disease in this country. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), half of U.S. adults had at least one chronic health condition in 2012. The estimated cost of diabetes alone was approximately $245 billion.
If more doctors started transitioning to telemedicine just in this one way — with virtual follow-up care — it could make a world of difference to our healthcare system. It’s a positive way to leverage telemedicine in your practice, whatever the specialty.