We provide technology to help healthcare providers incorporate telemedicine into their practice, so obviously, we see telemedicine as something that can benefit both practices and patients. The option of virtual visits expands access to quality care, particularly in rural or underserved areas with provider shortages.
Telemedicine can reduce costs and help our limited resources serve a population that is both struggling now to weather our current coronavirus pandemic, and will continue to age gaining more and more chronic conditions. We believe it is an integral part of the evolution of our healthcare system to meet the needs of the future.
But that doesn’t mean that there are no challenges. Anytime use of a particular technology begins to expand, you can expect some downsides. Telemedicine is no exception, but fortunately, as it becomes more popular and ubiquitous, it’s likely that today’s challenges will resolve in time. The benefits are simply too great to let some speed bumps get in the way.
Here are a few of the ways that telemedicine is fantastic and few of the remaining hurdles.
Pros of Telemedicine
Offers Convenience for Patients
Virtual visits free patients from the cost and lost time associated with going into the doctor’s office. People don’t have to use limited paid time off or lose hourly pay. They don’t have to find a sitter or arrange for elder care. They save costs associated with gas, public transportation, and parking. It’s no wonder that pre-coronavirus it was patient demand that was driving the increase in telemedicine adoption. For people with chronic conditions or those with mobility issues, virtual visits can improve quality of life significantly.
Reduces Healthcare Costs
One of the keys to bringing down, or at least slowing the growth of our national healthcare costs is ensuring that every part of the system operates efficiently. Virtual visits allow providers to see more patients each day, making that valuable resource more efficient. They also can help keep people from making unnecessary visits to the ER. Telemedicine can be used after surgery to reduce the number and expense of hospital readmissions.
Extends Access to Specialists
When a patient has a complicated case or a rare illness, they want to see the right specialist for their concern, not just the closest. Telemedicine removes the geographic barriers to getting a consult from a niche speciality, making it possible for practices or hospital systems to make referrals to precisely the right provider.
Better Health Outcomes
Because telemedicine is so convenient for patients, they are more likely to follow through with follow-up visits. Patients are less likely to cancel an appointment for transportation or childcare reasons. They are also more likely to engage in more frequent visits for things like reviewing test results and monitoring medications. Increased patient engagement leads to better health.
Cons of Telemedicine
Some Equipment is Required
When telemedicine emerged, it required expensive technology and specialized training. Today, video visits can happen with nothing more than a web app, a device with a high-definition camera, and a high-speed internet connection. Most patients have all they need right on their mobile phone or laptop. But we should keep in mind that high-speed internet access is not available in all areas. The more we can do to help ensure that everyone has access to the infrastructure needed for telemedicine, the better.
Not all Telemedicine Models Are Equal
We work with practices and healthcare systems that want to make video visits available to their patients. The patient still sees their own provider or specialist. There is another model of online telemedicine, where patients request a visit with whatever doctor happens to be available. This isn’t unlike the trend of retail walk-in clinics. While it might be great for a simple problem in a pinch, the quality of care will not be the same as seeing a provider who knows the patient’s history and who has built a relationship. Telemedicine should add to the doctor-patient relationship, not replace it.
Reimbursement is Still a Mess
Getting reimbursed for telemedicine visits has historically been a significant challenge. The policies of states and insurers change all of the time and reimbursement for Medicaid is complex. The good news is that states, the federal government, and many insurers agree that telemedicine needs to be part of the future of healthcare. They just aren’t all in lockstep on how to get there. However, with the recent coronavirus pandemic many rules have been relaxed enabling greater ease of reimbursement. If these relaxed requirements were to remain in a post-coronavirus world it would be good news for both patients and providers.
We’ve already seen these challenges begin to become smaller and smaller. While they do deserve some consideration, there’s no need to let them get in the way of bringing telemedicine into your practice. The benefits are just too great to ignore.