Healthcare reform has driven a significant interest in Telehealth as a solution to reduce the cost of care and increase overall system capacity, but this just scratches the surface of its benefits. With almost one million families using video consultation with physicians last year, I thought it might help to provide a high-level overview of the benefits across the healthcare ecosystem that can be derived from Telehealth to help everyone understand the benefits the technology affords.
Being a father of a child with a disability I can tell you that this technology can be a huge benefit. We spend a great deal of time driving to doctors that aren’t conveniently located only to hear the latest test results. This could easily be done with a video consultation.
We also often consult specialists who aren’t local. We moved from the Midwest to the West Coast as a result of a change in employment, and one of our biggest considerations in making the move was changing doctors. We were also involved in a research study at the time and wanted to fulfill our commitment to the doctors.
With more frequent use of Telehealth I think we would have seen an avenue to have continuity of care through the move that just didn’t exist at the time. We really didn’t want to give up the knowledge of the care staff that had been with our son from birth.
With the research study, we committed to come back a couple of times a year so the doctors could track my son’s progress. With Telehealth, tests could have been conducted locally and results could have been discussed with a patient interview over a video call with the doctor. Telehealth would have allowed the doctor more frequent follow-ups and it would have been much more convenient to the patient. It also would have enabled the new local care staff to come up to speed faster.
I also believe as a patient there is an opportunity to have better outcomes because of timelier access to specialists who can apply the highest standards of care associated with their clinical discipline when evaluating a patient.
The bottom line is that patients can get the best care with the least inconvenience, and this would be major progress from where we’ve been with our healthcare system.
As mentioned above, doctors also benefit from being able to extend their reach to patients who aren’t local or who are unable to travel. For specialists, this is a big advantage because local patients can relocate and rural patients have very limited access to specialists.
By saving time not traveling between facilities, doctors can increase the number of patients they treat. This benefits the doctor in both quality of life and creates an ability to increase billable time. Doctors can also increase capacity through less travel/weather condition schedule disruptions.
Another key advantage of Telehealth, which benefits both the doctor and the patient, is the ability to get a real-time second opinion. Doctors benefit from minimizing a delay in care and also simply sharing knowledge. Patients can feel more confident in an opinion validated by another doctor.
For rural doctors, this opens the door to many more resources and reduces professional isolation. It makes it much easier to consult other doctors and also allows them to increase their scope of knowledge. It isn’t just the knowledge gained from working with a broader group of professionals, but also the continuing educational opportunities that the technology creates for rural medical professionals.
Health Care System Benefits
The reality of healthcare reform is that it provides access to millions of people who were previously uninsured at a time when the number of providers is declining. This creates a need to increase capacity and efficiency.
One of the biggest cost reduction opportunities is providing timely access to the right physician that can predict or prevent an adverse event, or at least reduce the chances of adverse events.
There is a real case to be made for advancing education for all care specialists with Telehealth. Eliminating travel costs increases the amount of education a healthcare organization can afford. Increasing training makes a medical staff more efficient and reduces costs. It also minimizes the number of times transfers occur due to the knowledge required not being available locally.
As far as education is concerned, there is a big difference between watching recorded instruction and actually being able to interact with an instructor live while a course is being conducted. There is a Baylor school of medicine study that indicated that people take away over 600% more knowledge when they are face to face versus voice alone. Imagine the difference if you can both see and interact with the instructor.
Telehealth will also minimize ambulance and medical taxi costs and eliminate unnecessary and duplicate tests that are often required to ensure accuracy when a patient is transferred from one site to another. There is also the cost of admissions/readmissions when patients are moved between facilities. It is reported that over one billion dollars is spent on unnecessary hospitalizations each year. To try to reduce excessive facility transportation costs, eleven nursing homes participated in a teleheath study that allowed 24 hour physician support through video conferencing. The report concluded annual savings of over $150,000. For more information on the study click here.
An opportunity to reduce staffing costs for rural facilities also exists, as with Telehealth it is now easier to lean on the entire network for support versus staffing locally. Through Telehealth implementation, one health system comprised of nine hospitals, over seventy clinics serving 1.4 million people reported 67 percent reductions in hospitalizations and 68 percent reductions in hospital bed days. Even if staff can’t be reduced it lends itself well to improving the communication between regional facilities.
There are less tangible benefits of making rural facilities more attractive to medical professionals who might otherwise move to larger facilities. Continuity of care is also a benefit that is hard to quantify, but well understood to be a huge benefit for medical professionals and patients.
Telehealth adoption and other advancements in healthcare communication technology is evident with the recent 7.3 million dollar funding of Augmedix, a healthcare start up that allows doctors to view patient medical records instantly through voice commands using Google Glass. It is clear that Telehealth will have a strong return on investment across the entire healthcare ecosystem. Senior administrative staff are just beginning to understand the potential ROI of this technology, but as they do the velocity of adoption will increase exponentially. I believe when we look back ten years from now we’ll see Telehealth profoundly changed the way healthcare is delivered and viewed.