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Telemedicine/Telehealth: Potential Impacts on Health Care

Adaptive Medical Partners | Healthcare News

Telemedicine/Telehealth: Potential Impacts on Health Care

Once upon a time, doctors made house calls, bringing health care to those too ill to travel. The practice fell out of fashion in the United States long ago, but a modern form has emerged: telemedicine. Technological advancements, widespread internet access and use of smartphones, policy shifts, and an unmet demand for clinical services have combined to create an environment that encourages telehealth’s expansion. The growth of telehealth brings benefits both to patients and those providing their health care, and telemedicine affects physician recruiting.

Telemedicine / Telehealthcare

Virtual medicine explained

The terms “telemedicine” and “telehealth” are frequently used interchangeably. Related terms include “virtual medicine” and “digital health.” The Health Resources Services Administration defines telehealth as the overarching umbrella of remote health care services that use electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support clinical health care over a distance, as well as nonclinical services in support of patients or quality of care. Nonclinical services can include patient and professional health-related education or training, continuing medical education, and administrative meetings.

Telemedicine is different from telehealth because the former term specifically refers to clinical services. Telemedicine examines, educates and even treats patients from a distance using high-speed telecommunications systems, computer technologies, and specialized medical cameras. Technologies include videoconferencing, store-and-forward imaging (the transmission of still images for review), remote monitoring of vital signs, streaming media, and wireless communications.

Continued growth of telehealth

Each year, the number of virtual encounters increases, as does the adoption of telehealth by health care organizations, despite continued reimbursement challenges and legislative barriers.

  • In the United States, one survey projects that general practitioners will conduct 5.4 million video consultations with patients annually by 2020.
  • According to another study, telemedicine can expect 7 million patient users in 2018, a significant increase from the 350,000 patient users in 2013.
  • The National Business Group on Health found that 90 percent of large employers in states where laws permit telehealth reported they expected to offer a telemedicine benefit in 2017in 2016, only 70 percent offered employees such a benefit.

Potential benefits to patients and providers

Telehealth technologies offer many potential benefits to patients, providers, health care facilities and communities.

  • Telemedicine encounters can eliminate travel time to and from appointments, which reduces stress and costs for the patient. A 2015 study found the average doctor visit took 121 minutes, with 37 minutes spent traveling, 64 minutes waiting and 20 minutes of in-person time with physicians.
  • Telehealth can increase patient-to-clinician interaction, which increases patient satisfaction. A 2017 study found that despite hours of time spent by patients on each visit, 56 percent of all physician visits included only 16 minutes or less of actual face-to-face time between the patient and the practitioner.
  • Increased satisfaction increases patient compliance, which in turn leads to better clinical outcomes.
  • Telemedicine consultations could shorten wait times. In 2017, the average wait for an appointment with a new family medicine doctor is 29.3 days in major metropolitan areas and 54.3 days in mid-sized metropolitan areas.
  • Telehealth provides access to care in rural, underserved areas, where at least 20 percent of Americans live.

Possible impact on physician recruiting

Health systems in rural areas that encounter difficulty recruiting providers because of an unwillingness to relocate could attract physicians through the use of telemedicine, allowing remote consultations at least part of the time. Offering telehealth visits as part of the rotation could appeal to providers, especially younger physicians seeking greater work/life balance. Whether your recruiting needs are virtual or conventional, Adaptive Medical Partners is here to assist you in finding the right fit.