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The Rise of Telehealth: Exploring the Benefits of Remote Medical Care

UPDATED:
December 6, 2023
Online medical consultation

Virtual visits and telehealth have become buzzwords in the world of medical care today. Some practices were already moving toward this technology prior to the pandemic. Social distancing and concerns over contagion moved the needle significantly. Today, medical care providers conduct telehealth appointments as a matter of routine. But why have these visits remained so popular, even now that the pandemic is past us?

The Evolution of Telehealth in the Modern Healthcare Landscape

The Origins of Telehealth

Many Americans never encountered telehealth until the pandemic began. But that’s not because it wasn’t available. Telephones, radio, televisions, and the internet have transmitted medical data for decades. Here are a few highlights from the earliest examples:

  • 1959 — The University of Nebraska created a two-way television transmission system linking students across their campus
  • 1963 — Massachusetts General Hospital established a telecommunications link with a medical station at Logan Airport in Boston.
  • 1964 — The University of Nebraska began a partnership with Norfolk State Hospital to diagnose and consult on their patients remotely
  • 1965 — The Journal of the American Medical Association published an article detailing the benefits and challenges of ship-to-shore radio transmission of ECGs and X-rays.
  • 1967 — The University of Miami partnered with the city’s fire department to transmit ECGs from EMTs to Jackson Memorial Hospital

These pioneering uses were some of the first examples of telemedicine. Yet the technology did not catch on for quite sometime. Practices that wished to conduct such virtual visits ran into a number of problems. It was challenging to get reimbursement from medical insurers for these services. There were also a host of regulations that made the concept challenging in much of the US. Still, particularly in rural and remote areas, virtual visits and telemedicine began to take hold.

COVID-19’sPivotal Role in Telehealth Adoption

In March of 2020, nearly everything in the US came to a screeching halt. The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a nationwide stay-at-home order. Many began avoiding areas of potential contamination, such as the waiting room at their doctor’s office. To combat this, Congress enacted significant changes to Medicare’s restrictions on telehealth. They also relaxed various regulations surrounding how patients must be treated. These changes paved the way for telehealth to become more widely available.

The Integration of Technology In Modern Healthcare

Today, it hasn’t been that long since the end of stay-at-home orders. Yet most have begun to accept virtual visits as a common practice. We conduct medical appointments over the Internet. We use direct messaging for secure and easy communication with our doctors. And we routinely access our medical records through online portals.

The Benefits of Telehealth Appointments for Patients &Providers

There are many benefits to using a patient portal and offering virtual patient visits. Let’s explore some of the most prominent benefits.

Efficient& Cost-Effective

For patients, telehealth allows them to take care of their health without interrupting their life. Patients can now avoid taking time off from work, driving across town, and sitting in a waiting room. Instead, they can digitally connect to a medical appointment from their home or office.

For doctors, the cost savings are significant. An Australian team studied this and published an article in the Journal of Medical Internet Research. They noted four potential cost-savings areas: “productivity gains, reductions in secondary care, alternate funding models, and telementoring.” In the US, Penn Medicine found a cost savings of 25% for employee telemedicine visits vs. in-person appointments.

Easy Access to Resources & Care

If you’ve never lived in an area where medical care is scarce, you may not realize how vital telemedicine can be. Telemedicine is also far easier to access for those whose medical conditions make travel a challenge. The ability to get expert medical advice from home is a game-changer for many.

Reduces Problems for Patients

Telemedicine is convenient. It eliminates travel time and allows parents to seek medical help without worrying about child care. It allows workers to speak with a doctor without using PTO and reduces transportation needs for non-drivers.

Allows for Better Clinical Outcomes

Almost any medical care provider dreads hearing a patient say “I Googled it and…” with good reason. Patients need simple and convenient access to expert medical opinions. Without it, they often seek help from less reliable sources. Telemedicine allows medical practices to meet these patients where they are, offering real answers and advice. Sometimes that advice can be as simple as “it’s time to come to the office and see me.” Other times, doctors may say “that’s completely normal and should go away on its own.”

Reduces Wait Time & Inconveniences for Patients

Patients are far more content waiting in a virtual waiting room, where they can go about their day as they wait. Waiting from the comfort of home is always more convenient, particularly when someone isn't feeling well.

Allows for Improved or Comparable Patient Care

In most cases, telemedicine offers the same benefits as an in-person visit. Obviously, some types of care still require face-to-face interaction. But for routine follow-ups and continuous monitoring of ongoing medical conditions, remote care works. Because virtual visits are easier for patients, they better adhere to follow-up schedules and routine check-ins.

Improves Patient Satisfaction and builds Patient Engagement

Telemedicine patients to connect with medical experts for with routine questions. This can be managed even outside a traditional appointment. Such accessibility is an excellent way to build patient engagement. Engaged patients tend to have stronger doctor/patient relationships. This leads to better outcomes, and greater overall satisfaction.

Demystifying Virtual Visits and Video Appointments

If you’ve never conducted a virtual visit, they may initially seem confusing. Yet, once you’ve done a few, you’ll likely see how simple and straight forward they can be. To make this transition easier, Office Ally virtual visits offers an easy-to-use HIPPA-compliant platform. The software automatically integrates with Practice Mate and EHR 24/7. You’ll need video and microphone capabilities, reliable high-speed internet, and a browser like Chrome or Safari. Training documents will give you all the support you need. Office Ally can even help you e-prescribe and document your visit for insurance purposes.

How Virtual Visits Compare to Traditional Appointments

Most clinicians find that virtual visits are an effective and efficient use of their time. In fact, in a 2021 study published in the Future Healthcare Journal, the findings were very positive. Here’s their conclusion:

“The perception of clinicians is that virtual appointments enabled continuity of paediatric care with improved clinical assessment capability and attendance during video consultations compared with telephone consultations.”

Addressing the Potential Barriers of Technology in Telehealth

Of course, there are some problems that you may need to consider first. Before you begin offering telehealth appointments to your patients, these must be addressed. Here are two of the most common:

Slow Internet Speeds in Rural Areas

Rural areas frequently face one of the most difficult challenges to its effectiveness. The Pew Research Center states that “rural Americans have consistently lower levels of technology ownership than urbanites and lower broadband adoption than suburbanites.”

The good news is that despite their still lower adoption rates, rural areas are moving forward with technology. In some cases, clinicians can conduct telehealth visits by phone for these populations.

Misuse of Technology Among the Less Tech-Savvy

Some patients may have particular challenges when it comes to using technology. Some may have no access to advanced devices with video capabilities. For others, clinics train their staff members to walk these patients through the process for the first time over the phone. Others show them how to conduct a telehealth visit when they’re in the office for an in-person appointment.

The Future of Telehealth

It’s clear that telehealth benefits both patients and staff. But what can you do to keep moving forward with this technology? Once you’ve adopted virtual visits, there are plenty of ways to keep innovating within your practice.

  • Train front office staff members to help patients log into their first telehealth visit.
  • Improve telehealth appointment management with Reminder Mate from Office Ally.
  • Survey patients who have used your telehealth services to learn their thoughts and how you might improve the service.
  • Implement Patient Ally — Office Ally’s patient portal solution — to seamlessly schedule, document, and manage telehealth patients.

The Indispensable Role of Telehealth for Modern Medical Practices

Telehealth is here to stay and is only going to become more and more a part of our healthcare journeys. It’s beneficial to patients and care staff alike. If you haven’t tried telehealth in your clinic yet, perhaps it’s time to give it another look.