The news about telemedicine, straight from the horse's mouth
It’s easy to get excited about the newest healthcare trends; it’s much harder to actually implement these trends on the ground level.
Budget is a concern, certainly, as is the institutional difficulty of changing an entire intractable system. But the primary concern with implementing a new system like telehealth is the impact it has on the clinicians and patients who not only have to use it, but actually master it as part of their daily routine.
What do doctors and healthcare professionals think about telehealth? Has the addition of greater communication, medical computers with cameras, and telehealth actually improved the state of healthcare? Let’s ask the experts.
Why Do We Need Telehealth?
When talking to ThriveGlobal, Alfred Poor – Ph.D. and editor of Health Tech Insider – said this:
“Our healthcare system does not work well in sparsely populated regions. Our rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate. And efforts that may increase the numbers of uninsured patients are likely to accelerate this effort. Patients will show up in emergency departments and will have to be treated at the hospital’s expense. We need more options that will give people affordable access to non-acute healthcare services.”
He nicely outlines why telehealth is needed. Not only are hospitals in non-urban areas more expensive to run, they’re also disappearing disproportionately to the populace. This leaves rural areas with a dangerous dearth of healthcare options, which is exactly the kind of problem telehealth can help solve. Sure, emergencies are always going to require physical presence, but many run-of-the-mill issues and referrals can easily be done over a video conference for a fraction of the price and without the travel concerns.
Alfred Poor also outlines another issue: patients without insurance, which are at a high rate still in rural areas in states like South Dakota, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi, are an increasing burden on already struggling hospitals.
Reducing the number of visits reduces the cost for hospitals, and can increase patient health when supplemented with relatively low-cost telehealth techniques.
Benefits to an Aging Population
Aging patients have a hard time getting to the hospital or doctor’s office, and sadly they are also the demographic that needs more frequent care. Physical disabilities, mental disabilities, loss of drivers’ license, and lack of familial support all combine to create a barrier for the elderly.
Benjamin Lefever, CEO of Cerintell (a care-management company) said the following:
“As the population continues to age and chronic conditions continue to increase, new and innovative ways will help serve the needs of these patients helping to keep them out of high-cost environments like the emergency room.”
You may have heard of the “Silver Tsunami,” which is the nickname for the clear trend of a vastly growing elderly population — by 2030, the number of people over 65 will double. That’s a huge load on all societal support services, but none will feel the burden more keenly than hospitals.
The key to managing this future influx of patients — especially in the face of doctor and nurse shortages — is to eliminate as many unnecessary hospital visits as possible. Some elderly care homes have already started training caretakers on the use of medical tablets and telehealth applications in order to help elderly residents undertake routine exams without leaving their homes.
Do Patients Want Remote Visits?
The next question is, while many hospital administrators and tech professionals certainly like the idea, is it something patients are looking for? Jennifer Humbert is the Director of Telemedicine at Oschner Health Systems. She’s also RN, an MSN, and an MHA. In her experience, it turns out they do:
“Our patients want to do virtual care, and they just want to make sure that the providers can do everything that they need to do over video as they can in person.”
Apparently, patients are interested, with some understandable reservations. Which is why we need to make sure to field test telehealth wherever we can and help patients get comfortable with the idea that a doctor on a medical monitor can still perform many of their necessary duties and evaluations.
A Surprisingly Fast Adoption of Telehealth
There’s already plenty of evidence for both patient and clinician acceptance of telehealth, mainly that the practice has already seen some incredibly quick adoption. Sylvia Romm, MD and VP of Clinical Transformation at American Well, said the following in a press release:
“Physicians are adopting telehealth much faster than they adopted EHRs at a similar stage of market development. Physicians’ increased willingness to see patients over video, in addition to the increasing physician shortage, high burnout rates and a more favorable reimbursement landscape, signals a boom in virtual visits over the next several years. It’s exciting to be a part of such a significant movement.”
While clinicians and EHRs have had a sometimes contentious relationship, it is still notable that telehealth has seen faster adoption. Telehealth generally requires more equipment and at least an equivalent amount of training, with the added snag of being about 50% reliant on patients figuring out how telehealth equipment and applications work on their end. To see higher and faster adoption than EHRs is a monumental discovery.
On Mental Telehealth
Telehealth isn’t just about diagnosing pink eye or strep throat: it can help doctors and patients in a plethora of ways. Perhaps one of the most effective uses of telehealth is the burgeoning field of telepsychiatry.
It’s true that a mental health crisis is waiting in the wings for most of the population. However, this crisis is particularly acute for students, prisoners, and the elderly: these demographics have the most barriers to both time and travel for therapy appointments, and consequently, seem to suffer the most.
Jonathan Merson, MD, Medical Director of Northwell’s Emergency Telepsychiatry Hub, had this to say about telepsychiatry:
“At a time when the American health care system is facing a shortage of psychiatrists and mental health services, telepsychiatry underscores a commitment to increasing access to care and improving outcomes for our patients. It’s a technology that has no boundaries and the goal is simple: No patient experiencing a behavioral health emergency should have to wait to be seen.”
With telehealth centers springing up at college campuses, prisons, and elder care facilities, it’s the hope that those affected the most will have their wait-times drastically reduced. Reaching out for mental health is hard: it’s impossible if you don’t have the freedom, time, or money to make it to regular therapist appointments.
The True Value of Telehealth
We’ll let Mike Philips, MD and Chief of Clinical and Outreach Services at Intermountain Healthcare, take us out:
“High-value, relationship-centered care. That’s the true value of telehealth.”
To learn more about implementing telehealth, and the medical monitors, tablets, and computers you’ll need to do the job, contact Cybernet today.