14 Benefits of Telehealth: Why Telehealth is Transforming Healthcare

11.04.19 TigerConnect Healthcare
14 Benefits of Telehealth: Why Telehealth is Transforming Healthcare

There are times when laser surgery is the best way to seal a leaking blood vessel. It’s faster, safer, more effective, and less expensive in the long run than any other method.

Telehealth is like laser surgery for certain portions of our healthcare system. It’s faster, safer, more effective, and less expensive in the long run.

And oh, how it can stop – or at least significantly slow – the bleeding.

Bleeding appears in many forms to our healthcare systems:

  • Patient dissatisfaction
  • Lack of access to care in rural areas
  • Mismanagement of chronic diseases
  • Fragmentation of care
  • Wasted time for patients and clinicians
  • Wasted money for patients and healthcare facilities
  • Inconvenience, frustration, and stress

This post will show 14 benefits of telehealth that are transforming healthcare and stopping some bleeding in our system, and promote a healthy, sustainable set of effective workflows.

What is Telehealth?

We’ll use the definition from the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCHP):

Telehealth is a collection of means or methods for enhancing health care, public health and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies. Telehealth encompasses a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services. Telehealth is not a specific service, but a collection of means to enhance care and education delivery.

The “telecommunications technologies” mentioned in the CCHP definition typically take one of these forms:

  1. Live videoconferencing – Two typical applications are:
    – Pre-op prep or follow-up between the care team and the patient and family
    – A physician consult with a far-away specialist
  2. Store-and-Forward – When a patient transmits medical data to a physician or practitioner for later review. Store-and-Forward does not require real-time communication between the sender and the receiver of the information. It supports diagnosis and treatment. For example, a patient may send her dermatologist a photo of a suspicious mole without a real-time interaction.
  3. Remote Patient Monitoring – A variety of technologies which enable a care team to monitor a patient’s health remotely. Four common applications are:
    – Devices that measure and wirelessly transmit data to a care team; examples are blood pressure and lung function
    – Wearable devices that automatically record and transmit data; examples are blood glucose levels, heart rate, physical activity, tremors, and sleep patterns
    – Web-based or mobile apps for uploading data to a care team; an example is blood glucose readings
    – Home-based remote monitoring devices that detect changes in routine activities; examples are excessive sleep and falls

These three telehealth technology systems improve the quality of care by giving patients long-distance access to their care team, removing potential barriers to care.

Now let’s look at how those same technologies work like laser surgery to stop some bleeding of our healthcare system.

Benefits of Telehealth

Telehealth is a win for four different populations:

  • Patients and their families
  • Physicians and other healthcare providers
  • Healthcare facilities
  • Insurance companies

We’ll take them one at a time.

Benefits for Patients and Their Families

Telehealth is the perfect laser-surgery solution in these circumstances:

  • When a patient and her family need to discuss test results or post-op care with a physician, a videoconference replaces an in-person visit.
  • When a patient’s rash is spreading, Store-and-Forward replaces an office visit.
  • When a patient needs to manage a chronic condition like diabetes or COPD, Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) replaces routine office visits … or ER visits when the disease is mismanaged. And when there’s more frequent contact with the doctor’s office, there’s less fragmentation of care that occurs when a patient forgets or lapses with their responsibilities. Patients have greater engagement and ownership of their health.

Telehealth is simply the most effective and efficient means of care delivery in situations like those. It’s the right care at the right time and the right place with the right provider.

When a patient can interact with his care team remotely, he saves:

  • Time – No hours spent traveling or waiting in a doctor’s office, and no need to take time off from work, and no need to pull kids out of school for half a day. A survey of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) patients found that if they had no access to a virtual visit, 40% would have forgone care to avoid traveling!
  • Money – No expenses for gas, parking, extra meals out, and perhaps even airfare and hotel stays. Regence Health Plans reported that consumers save an average of $100 per visit when using a telehealth clinical service instead of in-person office, urgent care, or emergency room visits. The finding reflects cost savings associated with medical claims, mileage, and time spent waiting in traffic and a waiting room.
  • Hassle – No need to leave home for a trip to an unfamiliar hospital in an unfamiliar city. No winter travel during unpredictable weather. No worries about acquiring an infection from another patient. Kids miss less school.

When patients save time, money, and hassle, they’re more satisfied. In a survey of 1,734 patients who visited a CVS MinuteClinic with symptoms suitable for a telehealth consult, and who agreed to a telehealth visit when the onsite practitioner was busy, at least 94% said they were “very satisfied” with the telehealth experience. One-third said they preferred the telehealth visit to a clinic visit.

But the laser-surgery effect is amplified for patients who live in rural areas because they save even more time, money, and hassle.

For example, instead of saving 45 minutes of driving to and from an appointment, rural patients may save an 8-hour round trip. Instead of kids missing half a day of school, rural kids might have to miss multiple days.

Project ECHO targets patients in remote areas who have limited access to physicians, enabling them to receive care in their communities. In 2009, the project saved patients in a New Mexico community 539,000 travel miles.

In summary, patient-related benefits comprise 5 of our 14 telehealth benefits:

Benefit #1: Patients save time by avoiding travel

Benefit #2: Patients save money by avoiding travel

Benefit #3: Patients reduce stress by staying in the comfort and safety of their own home

Benefit #4: Patients experience greater efficiency and satisfaction with the healthcare system

Benefit #5: Patients in rural areas have fast and easy access to more healthcare services

Telehealth improves patient experiences. Next, let’s see how telehealth can benefit care providers.

Benefits for Physicians and other Healthcare Providers

The Internet redefined markets for businesses like bookstores. Their market became any consumer with an Internet connection. Proximity no longer mattered.

Telehealth has a similar impact on the potential patient base for physicians – especially patients in rural areas, and especially for specialty services like psychology, psychiatry, dermatology, audiology, and ophthalmology. Specialists tend to not practice in remote areas because the markets are so small, making it an unsustainable business model. Telehealth allows specialists to reach remote patients in every pocket of their state.

Here are more opportunities telehealth brings to primary care and specialty providers:

    • Use RPM to get near-real-time data so they can manage more patients more efficiently
    • Use videoconferencing to eliminate time traveling between healthcare facilities
    • Use videoconferencing to eliminate travel time and expenses related to Continuing Education requirements; every hour not on the road is another hour available for patient care

Telehealth delivers 3 of our 14 benefits to Physicians and other healthcare providers:

Benefit #6: Providers can significantly expand their potential patient base and improve the quality of rural health with no additional travel

Benefit #7: Providers are at lower risk for burnout because they can interact with patients more frequently and manage patients more efficiently

Benefit #8: Providers can more easily participate in training and education without traveling to out-of-state multi-day events

Next up: hospitals, clinics, and doctor offices.

Benefits for Healthcare Facilities

Telehealth technologies are laser surgery to four visible metrics for healthcare facilities:

  1. No-shows go down because patients are more engaged with their care team.
  2. Readmissions go down because RPM and remote consultations help patients manage health conditions more effectively. One innovative hospital invites the patient’s offsite family members to a video conference where they can ask questions of doctors, nurses, and other care team members, and also receive after-care instructions. This type of family and patient engagement can improve compliance with after-care instructions, which then reduces readmissions.
  3. Transfers to out-of-network facilities (and associated loss of revenue) go down because remote consultations with specialists can safely determine whether a patient needs to be moved to another facility. A four-month pilot project at San Diego’s North County Health Services eliminated 65 percent of its specialty referrals when doctors had access to an eConsult platform.
  4. Costs go down because online visits are less expensive than urgent care and ER encounters. An oft-quoted statistic comes from the University of Pittsburg Medical Center, which saves $86.64 every time an online visit replaces an onsite visit.

In summary, telehealth delivers 4 of our 14 benefits to healthcare facilities:

Benefit #9: Facilities have fewer no-shows

Benefit #10: Hospital readmissions decrease

Benefit #11: Hospitals lose fewer patients and less revenue to out-of-network transfers

Benefit #12: Facilities save money through virtual visits

Finally, let’s look at how insurers benefit from telehealth.

Benefits for Insurance Companies

Multiple studies show what patients would do if telehealth were not an option, and telehealth is a proven winner for health insurance companies.

In one comprehensive study, the cost of patients’ options is applied to the projected incidence of those options. Without the Telehealth option, the weighted average cost for alternative sites of care is $176.

Compared with the typical $50 cost of a telehealth visit, the result is a savings of $126 per patient encounter for the insurance company.

And when insurance companies cover telehealth services, they make it possible for patients to experience the first five benefits listed in this article.

These observations give insurers the last two benefits in our list of 14:

Benefit #13: Insurance companies can enable patients to experience greater access, efficiency, and satisfaction with the healthcare system

Benefit #14: Insurance companies can significantly reduce costs

Why Telehealth is Important for Healthcare

We’ve discussed the benefits of telehealth to people and organizations. Let’s turn now to the ways telehealth affects the entire healthcare industry.

We’ve all heard the dire predictions about Medicare’s dismal future and the out-of-control cost of prescriptions. Can telehealth help, or is the financial bleeding beyond telehealth’s laser surgery effect?

According to America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), “telehealth could help save the United States as much as $4.28 billion on health care spending per year and studies have shown net cost savings totaling $100 per visit.” Saving several billion dollars each year is important for our national healthcare system.

Now, we know that all ill people are not equally ill. Not everyone needs the costly resources of a hospital.

For the less-ill people, telehealth is the answer. A doctor or nurse can just as effectively “see” that patient over a live videoconference feed. Telehealth gives us a new option for delivering preventive and follow-up care, which means we can reserve costly healthcare facilities and their resources for the people who need them.

In addition to enabling more efficient use of healthcare’s physical resources, telehealth helps the industry use its human resources more efficiently, too. Telehealth addresses shortages of primary care and specialty providers by helping providers work more efficiently.

When providers are more efficient, they treat more patients in less time for a lower cost. The net effect is this: more people have access to the right care at the right time and the right place with the right provider.

“The national average for readmission to hospitals within 30 days following a heart failure episode is 20%. Telehealth monitoring programs have reduced that level to less than 4%.”California Telehealth Resource Center

Challenges of Telehealth

According to one review of medical records of older patients living in a senior living community, 38 percent of in-person visits, including 27 percent of emergency department visits, could have been replaced with telemedicine.

So how can we accelerate the adoption of telehealth?

The Health Resources and Services Administration reports multiple factors that are slowing the switch to telehealth as a means of delivering specialized care. Among them:

  • Older patients have been slow to adjust to telehealth
  • Lower-income households have less access to computers and mobile devices
  • Different insurers cover different telehealth services

Insurance/reimbursement – Thirty-five states have “parity laws” that require insurance companies to reimburse for telehealth services. Only 21 states require private insurers to cover video visits. State Medicaid programs vary in paying for telemedicine.

Conclusion

We listed 14 benefits of telehealth, but ours is not a definitive list. There are certainly others.

Now, telehealth doesn’t promise to remake the healthcare system and fix all its problems. But like a focused laser can efficiently and safely seal a leaking blood vessel, telehealth can efficiently and safely correct some long-term and critical deficiencies of our system.

Better access to specialty care for rural patients. Reduced readmission rates. More effective management of chronic diseases. Increased patient and physician satisfaction.

And the technology behind telehealth continues to improve. Every year brings clearer audio, crisper video, and more reliable hardware and software.

If you’re considering telehealth, start your search with TigerConnect’s Virtual Care solution. It’s integrated into their more extensive Communication & Collaboration system and emphasizes engagement between patients and care teams through voice, video, and text. For example, after surgery, a physician can follow up with the patient regarding pain management, inflammation, healing of the incision, mobility, and more.

“Whether a patient is in a hospital room, an urgent care center, or at home, care team members can participate in group video sessions or text-based conversations to collaborate, share information in real time, and reach consensus around treatment options.” – TigerConnect

Telehealth is not a technology for the future. It’s here now, and it’s up to us to develop, improve, and innovate with it.

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