Technology has become a staple in our modern lives. Yet, while the science and technology that advance our healthcare services have made dramatic improvements in the way providers are able to care for patients, the delivery of healthcare continues to drag behind due to regulatory and compliance hurdles. The field of telecare is one such example.
As we advance healthcare into 2020 and beyond, regularly examining the benefits of telecare is prudent within the context of how we can best serve patients. In several cases, telecare may be a more viable option for many patients and providers; however, there are circumstances in which traditional, in-person medicine may prevail.
Only by having an ongoing conversation around telecare and telemedicine can we continuously apply the correct course of action and serve patients to the best of our abilities as an industry.
Telehealth, telecare, and telemedicine are terms often used interchangeably, but clarifying their meanings is important as healthcare regulations catch up to the technology and remote tools become an increasingly valuable asset to patient care.
Telehealth is a term used broadly to refer to healthcare IT services, healthcare education transmitted digitally, and any healthcare services that are deployed using technology or non-traditional formats. The term telehealth is an all-encompassing, umbrella term, and one that is likely most familiar to patients.
Telecare specifically refers to the technology that allows healthcare providers to care and interact with patients while those patients reside in locations other than the physician’s office. In particular, telecare includes video conferencing technology, computers, telephones, mobile health alert systems, and mobile assessment tools and devices.
Lastly, telemedicine is the practice of providing care to a patient who is in another location. Telemedicine relies on the technology in order for the provider to gather necessary information and data on a patient and provide accurate assessment.
The benefits of telemedicine rely on two pivotal pillars: access and awareness. In order for a patient to make best use of telemedicine, he or she first needs to be aware that the service even exists.
While many patients have heard of telemedicine, they have no idea if such an innovative service is available on their healthcare plan. In many cases, patients simply assume telehealth is not a luxury they have access to. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of healthcare plans cover telehealth services.
A similar challenge is that of perceived versus actual affordability. Oftentimes a patient might expect that telehealth costs less than a face-to-face visit to a physician. However, that is not always the case.
The struggle, as we gain more experience with telehealth in general, is balancing the real and the perceived quality of care with the affordability of in-person and telemedicine services.
To combat both of these issues of awareness and perception, healthcare providers and health plans must take deliberate steps to educate the patient population.
Telehealth offers vast potential in terms of improving the convenience and quality of healthcare. While many people think of telemedicine as something that is most useful when someone is in a remote area 50 or more miles away from the nearest facility, the convenience of telemedicine also significantly improves the convenience in rural areas, as well.
In areas where patient volume is a concern and healthcare organizations struggle to provide each patient with quality care in a timely manner, telehealth can ease the burden. For example, if a patient develops a UTI – a very common, treatable condition – he or she may be better served by using telehealth to gain access to treatment rather than going to a clinic, sitting uncomfortably in a doctor’s office for an hour, then being seen for five minutes to get the prescription before heading out the door.
In this way, telehealth has the potential to add more than just a convenience factor; in fact, it can improve the quality of care, as well. Many patients who have never experienced telemedicine assume that they will not receive the same level of care over a remote, technology-driven appointment compared to an in-person visit.
However, telemedicine allows providers to cut back on wait times, spend more time with patients, and – thanks to high-quality video and local testing facilities – provide the same level of diagnostic precision as a face-to-face appointment.
A successful healthcare operation must be beneficial to the organization as well as the patient. While telehealth is a relatively new concept for many patients, healthcare organizations have the capabilities to execute telemedicine but often fail to make full use of the technology. Oftentimes, this comes down to a lack of understanding how significantly telehealth can benefit the organization as a whole.
Firstly, providing services via telemedicine is extremely cost-effective for healthcare organizations. Compared to the numerous expenses associated with the number of staff members involved when a patient comes in for an in-person visit, telemedicine drastically reduces those personnel costs.
Additionally, patients who are seen via telemedicine do not take up a room in a facility and do not use resources and supplies that the organization has to replenish. If your healthcare organization receives the same reimbursement for seeing a patient via telemedicine versus in-person, but your expenses are far less with telemedicine, then the organization is going to benefit more from the telemedicine appointment and reimbursement.
While setting up a telehealth system may be a large investment up front, as technology evolves and becomes more mainstream, costs are going down. Similarly, new businesses are being formed by experienced technology and healthcare professionals to fill the growing need for reliable, compliant telehealth systems in the healthcare industry.
Telehealth also affords healthcare organizations the opportunity to increase their market share by reaching a wider patient base.
By marketing your facility’s ability to provide telemedicine covered by specific health plans, your healthcare organization can dramatically improve its outreach, serve more patients, boost its reputation in the marketplace, and create a new wave of recurring revenue from reimbursements of repeat patient visits.
One of the most common objections I hear from our clients to establishing a telemedicine system is the challenge of integrating telehealth with existing electronic health record (EHR) tools. At many facilities – especially hospitals – the entire organization may uses multiple EHR systems. There may be one for anesthesiology and another for the emergency department and another for the core inpatient flow and so on.
However, the telehealth systems we work with and recommend to our client organizations work independently from EHR solutions or other clinical software systems. Without having to worry about integration and interface costs, healthcare organizations can focus on creating simple yet effective service and billing workflows that allow the telehealth division to operate successfully independently.
Of course, when a healthcare organization considers adding any new vertical of service, the inevitable question is: after investing a large sum of money to set up an effective system, will we be able to recuperate our investment in a reasonable amount of time?
Thanks to parity laws, which vary from state to state and on a federal level, there is massive potential for telehealth to increase the profitability of services for an organization.
While some parity laws are robust and others are weak, the trend looking forward is that of an increased perceived value of telehealth, which encourages healthcare plans to reimburse telemedicine visits equally to in-person visits.
Indeed, the profitability of telehealth is a variable factor that depends on your organization’s health plans, location, and the evolution of patient demand. As patients create more of a demand for mobile technology, transparency, and access to healthcare on the patient’s terms, telehealth is going to become a core pillar of healthcare organizations in the future.
In order to ensure we as leaders in healthcare can make the most of this valuable trend toward remote care, we must educate the public on available resources while educating internal teams on the cost-saving and reimbursement parity potential of telehealth.
If your healthcare organization is considering adding a telehealth branch, get in touch with us and we will help you determine if telehealth is a profitable, cost-effective move for your organization and how to implement the strongest system for success.
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