10 Pros and Cons of Telemedicine
Are you ready to upgrade your medical practice to incorporate telemedicine? Over half of all U.S. hospitals use telemedicine, and this trend is rising.
In fact, in a recent survey of healthcare executives found 90% had already begun developing or implementing a telemedicine program into their organizations. Even healthcare providers in smaller, independent practices are starting to adopt telehealth to compete with local retail clinics and stop losing their patients.
While the telemedicine industry is growing, there are still a few challenges to consider. Adding new technologies and processes to your practice is a big move and shouldn’t be taken lightly. This post outlines the pros and cons of telemedicine that you should consider before deciding whether to upgrade your patient services.
Pros of Telemedicine
Adopting the latest telemedicine initiatives can help your practice achieve numerous benefits. You can lower healthcare costs, drive up practice efficiency and revenue, provide your patients better access to healthcare services, and ultimately get happier, healthier patients who stay in your practice.
More Convenient and Accessible Patient Care
According to a recent Cisco global survey, 74% of patients prefer easy access to healthcare services over in-person interactions with providers.
In today’s healthcare world, convenience is key.
Adding telehealth to your practice offers patients simple, on-demand care – without the usual wasted time and cost of most in-person visits. Patients who live in remote locations, or who are homebound or just can’t take off time from work, can access care virtually. Video conferencing, smartphone apps, and online management systems connect more patients with providers than ever before.
Healthcare Cost Savings
Remote analysis and monitoring services and electronic data storage significantly reduce healthcare service costs, saving money for you, your patients, and insurance companies. Telemedicine also reduces unnecessary non-urgent ER visits and eliminates transportation expenses for regular checkups.
Recently, the American Hospital Association reported on a telemedicine program that saved 11% in costs and more than tripled ROI for investors.
Beyond these general cost-savings, telehealth can help boost doctors’ revenue by turning on-call hours into billable time, attracting new patients, reducing no-shows, and even reducing overhead for physicians who decide to switch to a flexible work-from-home model for part of the week.
Extended Specialist and Referring Physician Access
With telehealth, patients in rural or remote areas benefit from quicker and more convenient specialist access. In the U.S., for every 100,000 rural patients, there are only 43 specialists available. These patients endure longer appointment commutes and have trouble accessing lifesaving consultations for specific diseases or chronic care plans.
Telemedicine offers better access to more specialists. You can refer your patients to the specific physicians they need, regardless of location. Or, if you’re a specialist looking to expand your patient population, telemedicine can help you reach a wider geographic region.
Increased Patient Engagement
When patients are committed to their own healthcare goals, it leads to lower costs and improved health. Ernst & Young Senior Advisory Services Manager Jan Oldenburg told Healthcare IT News that “”[t]he high cost of disengaged consumers affects everybody.”
Engaging your patients through telemedicine can help them maintain appointments and care schedules. Increased engagement initiatives can also curb obesity rates and tobacco use by helping you to encourage your patients’ healthy lifestyle choices.
Not only do virtual visits reassure patients that their doctors are available and involved in their care, it makes it much easier for them to reach out with questions, report early warning signs, and make a follow-up appointment to make sure they’re on track.
Better Patient Care Quality
Telemedicine offers patient-centered approaches, such as improved timeliness of care. This is critical to quality patient care. Patients can address healthcare issues quickly with real-time urgent care consultations and learn about treatment options within minutes.
A new study shows that telemedicine patients score lower for depression, anxiety, and stress, and have 38% fewer hospital admissions.
Cons of Telemedicine
While telemedicine promises to grow rapidly over the next decade and has clear benefits, it still poses some technical and practical problems for healthcare providers.
Technical Training and Equipment
Restructuring IT staff responsibilities and purchasing equipment takes time and costs money. Training is crucial to building an effective telemedicine program. Physicians, practice managers, and other medical staff need to be trained on the new systems to ensure a solid ROI. In addition, your staffing requirements may decrease. For instance, a nurse in a rural Alaska facility can monitor up to 33 patients at once from a single location using telemedicine services.
Reduced Care Continuity
In cases where patients are using on-demand telemedicine services that connect them with a random healthcare provider, care continuity suffers. A patient’s primary care provider may not have access to records from those other visits and end up with an incomplete history for the patient. Service provider shuffling increases the risk that a doctor won’t know a patient’s history or have notes about care routines.
Because reduced care continuity can decrease care quality, consumer telemedicine providers must apply sound data solutions to maintain adequate and accessible patient records. As more healthcare providers adopt telehealth solutions to use with their own patients, care continuity will likely increase, lessening the chance that patients end up at a retail clinic or urgent care center when they need quick care.
Fewer In-Person Consultations
Worried about technology’s limitations? You’re not alone. Many doctors worry about technical problems associated with telemedicine. Senior Healthcare Group Consultant Arun Ravi told Becker’s Hospital Review that poor broadband connections could lead to “possible patient mismanagement.”
Many physicians and patients alike still like a “personal touch,” and not all procedures – even simple checkups – can be performed digitally. However, in cases where patients just can’t get in to see their doctors in-person, and for many cases that don’t require a physical exam, telehealth can be a good alternative.
Tricky Policies and Reimbursement Rules
Healthcare laws, reimbursement policies, and privacy protection rules struggle to keep up with this fast-growing industry. As a healthcare provider, you want to promote best practices when approaching telemedicine.
While major developments have been made to telehealth reimbursement over the past couple years, it still remains a common stumbling block for providers interested in telemedicine. It’s best to do a little research into the reimbursement policy landscape in your state before you get started.
Telemedicine is a $17.8 billion industry, and it’s expected to grow 18.4% annually from 2015–2020. While it still has some limitations, many healthcare providers are innovating to solve these issues and improve their patients’ access to quality care. Now that you know some pros and cons of telemedicine, you’re ready to start thinking about how your practice will approach this booming healthcare trend.