Has the last year made you think differently about the medical benefits you provide your employees? In this article, Dr John Korangy MD, MPH, CEO of our wellness partner CareClix,1 looks at the benefits of telemedicine for you and your employees.
The events of 2020 changed the course of healthcare delivery – perhaps for ever. The COVID-19 pandemic saw the growth of telemedicine, beyond its origins of treating rural patient populations, to become an integral partner in today’s hybrid care delivery model.
The success of telemedicine comes down to three main reasons.
- Firstly, telemedicine will continue to reach more underserved patient populations as governments and healthcare providers realise the benefits and increase their investment in data infrastructure and telehealth programme development.
- Secondly, telemedicine can save money for both providers and patients by boosting physician and staff productivity and reducing provider and patient healthcare costs.
- Thirdly, telemedicine improves patient healthcare outcomes by making it easier and less expensive for them to access and use healthcare services.
We’ll look at each of these in more detail below and identify 11 specific ways telemedicine improves patient healthcare experiences and provider profitability.
Telemedicine fills healthcare gaps for underserved patients
Reaching people who otherwise may have little or no access to healthcare is a telemedicine imperative. Telemedicine is the perfect solution not only for rural patients, but for anyone who has difficulty getting to a healthcare facility anywhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic did not create the need for telemedicine. That need already existed because of a lack of rural healthcare availability. In the United States, for example, one in four rural Americans – about 15 million people2 – have no immediate access to care.3 Filling geography-based healthcare delivery gaps was one of the early drivers behind the creation of telemedicine. Its fire was already burning when COVID-19 poured kerosene on it.
Additional underserved populations
A patient does not need to live in the countryside to have trouble reaching a doctor or hospital. Elderly individuals and people with mobility difficulties, people who have no independent transportation and who live in areas underserved by public transport, and people who live in potentially unsafe areas are all subject to being cut off from in-person care.
The closing of hospitals and clinics in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic made a lack of personal access to healthcare professionals an experience many people shared. Although most healthcare facilities have at least partly reopened, the possibility of another epidemic or pandemic causing these institutions to close their doors again is a good reason to keep telemedicine as a robust alternative.
Telemedicine saves money for providers
By remotely bridging the physical distance between doctors and patients, telemedicine cuts the costs of healthcare delivery. Of our 11 reasons for telemedicine’s success, the first six show providers and doctors how to cut costs and boost efficiency.
- Telemedicine software solutions are customisable, scalable, and easy to set up and use. Medical carts and other mobile telemedicine platforms make it possible to create a virtual exam room in any location with a suitable data connection. Solutions such as CareClix are also fully compliant with data protection requirements like those in HIPAA and the HITECH Act.
- For doctors, virtual consultations make it possible to digitise and streamline workflow. This means seeing more patients with fewer no-show appointments. Telehealth software packages also have built-in billing capabilities to reduce coding errors and reimbursement delays.
- Consultation with other doctors and medical specialists is easy to do, making comprehensive patient treatment plans more practical and affordable.
- Home-based chronic care management, with 24/7 remote monitoring of remote patient monitoring devices, helps doctors spot potentially serious patient vital sign issues in time to intervene before a hospital readmission is needed.
- Doctors and staff who use telemedicine to serve their patients have more control over their work hours and locations, improving their efficiency and reducing work-related stress.
- For providers, better patient experiences with telemedicine consultations compared to in-person visits contributes to increased patient retention.
Healthcare providers that use telemedicine and who have shared their results have reported double-digit cost savings for in-home treatment versus inpatient stays, savings through fewer urgent care visits, reduced usage of lab tests, medical imaging, and antibiotic prescriptions, and more.
Telemedicine improves patient healthcare outcomes
The beauty of telemedicine is that everybody who uses it wins. We’ve seen above how telemedicine benefits providers and doctors. Compared to traditional doctors’ office visits, patients and their employers are better off, too. Of our 11 ways telemedicine benefits healthcare, the next five are patient-centred.
- Physically traveling to the waiting room is a thing of the past. By providing round-the-clock access to doctors and specialists, telemedicine software cuts patient wait-times down to minutes from the moment the patient opens the app to when the physician begins the consultation.
- Missing work to squeeze in a medical appointment is no longer necessary. The availability of a licensed, board-certified doctor at any time maximises patient convenience and reduces no-shows. Employers like this feature of telemedicine as much as their covered employees do.
- As it is for doctors, apps for patients are easy to use and secure. In the United States if a patient’s home care plan requires remote monitoring devices, solutions such as CareClix provide FDA-approved devices that come pre-configured to the patient’s specific needs and are ready to use right out of the box.
- Many telemedicine services are reimbursable through employer health plans and commercial and government health insurers. And even when a patient pays out-of-pocket for a telemedicine consultation it usually costs significantly less than a trip to the doctor’s office.
- Because it is more convenient than a trip to the waiting room, and because it is easy to use and costs less than a facility-based consultation, telemedicine promotes patient health by encouraging patients to use their healthcare services. Being able to consult with a doctor or specialist on their own schedule and from home empowers patients be more proactive in their own healthcare, instead of putting things off while conditions worsen.
Maximising telemedicine use after COVID-19
Chronic condition management and telebehavioural health will remain staples of telemedicine practice. Six out of every ten Americans has at least one chronic condition or disease4, and one in five is diagnosed with a mental disorder every year.5
In addition to these two fundamentals, employers and providers who serve their patients through telemedicine are already part of a new hybrid healthcare delivery model. This new model combines the best of telemedicine and facility-based care, moving as much chronic condition and disease management as possible to home-based health. It also expands telemedicine’s patient reach to more conditions and delivery options.
Here are just a few of the growth opportunities for telemedicine.
- Managing heart conditions like chronic pulmonary diseases, congestive heart failure and strokes.
- Partnering with providers transitioning to hospital-at-home care for some patients with acute conditions.
- Providing virtual urgent care with triaging capability and emergency department transfer as needed.
- Specialised medicine applications in oncology, paediatrics, radiology, pathology and dermatology.
- Increased integration of deep learning artificial intelligence with patient electronic health records and other data to predictively identify patients more at risk for complications requiring hospital readmission.
- Improved at-home medical equipment to better monitor blood glucose levels, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, as well as applications that can make better use of the highly capable cameras many patients have built into their smartphones.
COVID-19 gave many providers, employers, insurers, and patients their introduction to what telemedicine can do. Studies show that they like it and want more of it, with three-quarters of millennials preferring a virtual visit with the doctor to an in-person one.6 Providers and healthcare practitioners who partner with CareClix to build or improve their telemedicine services ensure they will remain competitive in value-based and increasingly home-based healthcare delivery today and in the future.
Thanks, Dr Korangy for the insights into telemedicine. To find out more about how you can work with CareClix to implement a global telemedicine programme, contact your MAXIS GBN representative or find out more about CareClix here.7
1 CareClix, Inc. incorporated and registered in USA whose registered office is at 206 N Washington St Suite 100 Alexandria, VA 22314
2 Anon, United States Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2017/08/rural-america.html (sourced March 2021)
3 “Life in Rural America, Part II,” Anon, report based on a survey conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harkard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for National Public Radio, May 2019 (sourced March 2021)
4 “Anon, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/chronicdisease/resources/infographic/chronic-diseases.htm (sourced March 2021)
5 Anon, National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/mhstats (sourced March 2021)
6 Anon, Modality https://www.modalitysystems.com/hub/blog/telemedicine-statistics#:~:text=27.,to%20in%2Dperson%20doctor%20exams. (sourced April 2021)
7 MAXIS GBN may receive fees, commissions and/or other remuneration from third parties in connection with the services we carry out for you.