Pros and Cons of Telehealth for Doctors

May 26, 2018 in

Pros and Cons of Telehealth for Doctors

Like any technology, telemedicine has it’s advantages and disadvantages. While many in the industry point to telehealth as a strategy for reducing healthcare costs, raising care accessibility, and even helping to improve patient outcomes, some remain doubtful of the extent to which telehealth delivers on these promises. Other providers may wonder whether adding telemedicine to their practices is worth the time and effort.

If you’re a physician considering telehealth, weigh the pros and cons for your practice. Is it a worthwhile investment?

Here’s a quick review of the top pros and cons of telehealth for doctors, to help you decide if telemedicine is right for your practice.

Pros of Telemedicine

We are living in the age of telehealth. With over 2/3 of Americans now using smartphones and X of doctors currently using tablets, the mobile revolution has helped make adopting telehealth software a much less costly and technologically complex endeavor than in the past. Many modern telehealth software solutions require simply a computer or smartphone and an internet connection to do a virtual visit with a patient.

With a little dedication and the right telemedicine software, physicians can see great returns when they invest in adding virtual visits to their practice.

1. Telehealth Can Expand Your Patient Base.

With telemedicine, a patient can get convenient healthcare from the comfort of their own home. This allows many patients to access specialists or practices they wouldn’t normally be able to see for treatment.

Physicians can take advantage of this by expanding their patient base and strengthening relationships with existing patients. Telemedicine allows physicians to connect with patients outside of their geographic region, which is especially effective for physicians who provide:

  • Primary care
  • Specialist referral services
  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Consumer medical and health info
  • Medical education

Consider also that offering telehealth can give your practice a huge competitive advantage over similar practices in your area. When shopping for new healthcare providers, a recent study found patients prioritize access to care over in-person interactions with their doctors. This means adding a service that makes you more accessible to patients, like telehealth, can help you attract new patients who might otherwise select a different healthcare provider.

2. Telehealth is Cost-Efficient.

Telemedicine can offer a less expensive alternative to in-office visits, for both patients and providers.

A recent study found the average doctor’s visit costs a patient $43 just in lost time – that’s in addition to the patient’s actual medical bill. Saving patients the time of sitting in the waiting room and commuting to your office can be a huge benefit for them, especially if they have a chronic condition that requires frequent appointments.

Read More: 5 Ways Telemedicine Saves Doctors Money

For doctors, many telehealth platforms have built-in patient enrollment and scheduling features that can streamline virtual appointment booking. A built-in billing system also makes patient payment collections for virtual appointments simple, with no time or money spent on sending out paper bills.

Time is money, too. Telemedicine can allow physicians to perform follow-up visits or check in on chronic patients with a smaller time commitment than an in-office visit. Offering virtual visits can also help you drive down no-show and late appointment rates, helping you to streamline your appointment schedule and avoid wasted time.

Read more: How Telemedicine Solves the Costly Problem of No-Shows

Some physicians who are looking for better work-life balance may turn use telemedicine to switch to a work-from-home model a few days a week, or in certain circumstances, take their entire practice online. This can translate to huge cuts in operating costs.

3. Engage Patients and Get Better Patient Outcomes.

Being able to check in on a patient remotely allows physicians to reinforce treatment adherence – which can be a crucial part of preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and maintaining patient health.

If a patient has questions about a medication or thinks they need to change their treatment plan, a telehealth solution allows them to quickly and conveniently check in with their doctor for guidance. This helps improve adherence, ultimately leads to better patient outcomes.

Telemedicine can also be a great tool for helping patients feel more in-charge of their health, a confidence that is vital for lifetime good health.

For more pros of telemedicine, read 13 Reasons to Adopt Telemedicine.

Cons of Telemedicine

While many are optimistic about the potential of telemedicine, others in the industry still have some concerns. Modern telemedicine technology has come a long way, but it’s not flawless afterall. And with the breakneck speed that telehealth technology is developing, the regulatory landscape has been struggling to keep up.

There’s still a need for clearer, streamlined policies and standards around telehealth practice to enable easier implementation for doctors.

1. Regulatory and Industry Barriers.

Telemedicine regulations vary from state-to-state, and can be hard to decipher. Some physicians may not want to take the trouble to figure of what’s needed to meet the telemedicine guidelines in their state.

Additionally, some telemedicine tools fall in a grey area of security, and physicians may worry that patient privacy is not adequately protected. Problems in the mHealth industry, like a lack of interoperability in EHR systems, can sometimes further complicate the use of telemedicine. Some practitioners are reluctant to use telemedicine when it seems the industry is constantly in flux.

2. Physical Examination is Limited.

Until relatively recently, live video communications technology wasn’t advanced enough to allow for comprehensive medical care. Today, most patients and doctors have easy access to technology that allows high-quality video-conferencing. But for some doctors, a virtual appointment may not seem enough to diagnose or treat a patient.

Read more: Why some physical exams are unnecessary, ineffective and costly

Although telemedicine can be very effective for many minor conditions, physicians may not feel comfortable conducting an examination over videochat. Some patients may also see this as a reason to choose in-person visit over virtual appointments.

3. Telemedicine Equipment and Technology.

Telemedicine facilitates many remote health services, including chronic patient monitoring, therapy appointments, and post-operative care. All these services run on software and hardware which can sometimes be costly – requiring training to use, the hire of additional IT staff, and the purchase of servers or other ancillary equipment in addition to the software.

Also, as is true of most technology, technical glitches do come up.  If problems arise during a virtual visit, the communication halts. That risk may be enough for some physicians to steer clear of telehealth platforms, though technological problems occur during in-office visits as well.

Some physicians may not have a computer-literate patient base, or may be worried about equipment costs and setup. Still others may just not be able to find a user-friendly telehealth platform that fits their needs.

These advantages and disadvantages are always changing with technology, but they all reflect age-old principles. When a telemedicine platform has a low cost of entry, little financial risk, and effective security features, physicians are much more likely to offer telemedicine as a care option.

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