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:
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.
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:
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.
Telehealth is a win for four different populations:
We’ll take them one at a time.
Telehealth is the perfect laser-surgery solution in these circumstances:
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:
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.
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:
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.
Telehealth technologies are laser surgery to four visible metrics for healthcare facilities:
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.