Healthcare providers are always looking for innovative ways to improve patient care. In recent years, the growth of remote health care has grown substantially. Ten years ago, only 35% of healthcare providers used telehealth to provide remote care to their patients.
By 2017, that number increased to an impressive 76%.
Telehealth is growing in the healthcare industry, but many providers are still hesitant to offer virtual care options. If you’re thinking about starting a telehealth program, here are the benefits of telehealth (and potential challenges) to help you make a well-informed decision.
Telehealth is a powerful tool designed to cut costs, improve patient care, and boost flexibility, but there are some challenges healthcare providers need to overcome to create an effective remote care program.
So, what are the pros and cons of telehealth, and how do you overcome the challenges?
What Is Telehealth?
Before diving into telehealth pros and cons, it’s important to understand what telehealth is and how it works. Telehealth, or telemedicine, is a way for healthcare providers to offer virtual care to patients using digital devices like computers, smartphones, and tablets.
It’s similar to standard video conferencing solutions like Zoom, except with added features designed specifically for healthcare providers. Features vary by platform but typically include all the tools you’d need to manage your practice, such as:
- Patient record management
- Automated patient appointment reminders
- Online appointment scheduling
- Note-taking options
- Digital prescriptions
The idea is to provide the same level of patient care as an in-person visit from anywhere in the world.
Benefits of Telehealth
Telehealth is popular for a reason. It makes the entire healthcare process more streamlined and cost-efficient for everyone involved.
So, what are the advantages of telehealth for patients and healthcare providers?
Lower Costs for Healthcare Providers
One of the top telehealth benefits is the incredible cost savings it brings.
For healthcare providers, telehealth solutions enable:
- Fewer doctors to see more patients
- Your practice to save money on staffing costs (receptionists are not needed to handle waiting room paperwork)
- All administrative tasks to be handled online
When the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) launched their telehealth service, for example, they reportedly saved an average of $86.64 per patient visit.
Lower Costs for Patients
Telehealth can also save patients’ money. Since it’s cheaper for providers to offer remote care, they don’t need to charge as much. Using telehealth primary care, one medical provider was able to reduce the cost of a typical office visit from between $120-$125 to around $45 per visit, cutting costs by 64%.
Better Access to Care
Travel time can hinder the ability to get quality healthcare.
Using telehealth, patients can receive care without having to physically go to the doctor’s office. Even someone living in remote areas can get high-quality care from the best doctors around the world.
Remote healthcare is also helpful for people with mobility issues. They’re able to see their doctor without needing to leave the house. For those with chronic conditions, they won’t need to keep going to the doctor’s office every couple weeks or months. The doctor can check up on them with remote monitoring.
Appointment scheduling is one of the most tedious parts of going to the doctor’s office – not to mention the burden on administrative staff at clinics and hospitals.
Telehealth solves scheduling woes by digitizing everything online. Patients can log in to the platform to see available dates and schedule appointments right from their device.
Those appointments are saved in the system automatically, eliminating the need for physical calendars and spreadsheets and helping medical professionals stay organized.
Many telehealth platforms feature the ability to create and save patient notes. Medical providers can make notes about patient health conditions and the care delivery in real time using their mobile devices.
An all-in-one method of healthcare, telehealth platforms allow your team members to collaborate effectively even when practitioners are not in the same room. Everyone has access to the health resources they need from a single source, including:
- Patient notes
- Medical records
- Appointment times
- Treatment history
- And more
Some telehealth platforms even extend their collaborative features beyond your immediate practice. They allow medical professionals to write digital prescriptions and send them to pharmacies and other medical teams immediately, helping to streamline the entire process.
Higher Patient Satisfaction
Because of the ease and convenience provided by telehealth solutions, patients tend to be much happier with their healthcare experiences.
According to a recent Penn Medicine survey, patients rated telemedicine care highly during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, 67% of patients surveyed say that telemedicine is better than in-person visits.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over, many patients say they’d like to continue using telehealth. Telehealth may have a huge impact on the future of the healthcare system as we know it.
Disadvantages of Telehealth
Although there are countless benefits to telehealth solutions, there are some challenges that limit telehealth adoption.
Telehealth solutions are all about technology. Between computers, networks, software, cameras, and equipment, it can be a lot to manage – especially for smaller practices.
Without a dedicated IT department, or at least an IT support partner, it can be difficult for many healthcare providers to keep up with the maintenance and management of all the technology involved.
Cybersecurity is a serious threat in today’s world. When providing healthcare entirely online, it could leave you and your patients vulnerable to threats.
Healthcare providers need to take active steps to protect themselves and their patients online. Remind patients to never use unsecured connections and partner with a cybersecurity expert that can secure your sensitive information.
Can’t Examine Patients
While remote healthcare might help reduce travel times, it also means providers can’t physically interact with patients, limiting exam effectiveness.
Instead, doctors need to rely on patient self-reports. Patients don’t always know the exact symptoms to look for and might accidentally omit important information.
To overcome some of these challenges, there is some specialized equipment available to help doctors examine patients remotely, including:
- Digital stethoscopes
- Patient monitoring systems
- Vital sign monitor
- Digital ECG devices
- Electronic medical scopes
While in-person visits are sometimes required, most issues can be handled remotely. Studies show that 75% of all ER, urgent care, and doctor visits can be effectively handled via phone or video.
Overcome Telehealth Challenges with the Right Partner
All trends point to telehealth playing a major role in the future of healthcare. It’s easy to use, cost-effective, increases patient engagement, and can help provide high-quality care to people living in rural areas. While there are certainly a few challenges to overcome, the benefits of telehealth outweigh the disadvantages.
If you’re ready to implement a telehealth program but not sure how to overcome the challenges, contact the experts at True North. We’ve completed over a thousand healthcare IT projects in the past 14 years for more than 100 hospitals and practices.
Our skilled technicians can help you get your digital practice up and running so you can start providing high-quality patient care right away.
Ready to offer better patient care with a telehealth solution that is right for you? Contact us today for a complimentary consultation to discuss your practice’s needs.