After the COVID-19 outbreak, the wide adoption of telehealth has become more relevant than ever before. An unfolding health crisis caused the necessity to diagnose and treat the exponentially increasing number of people while observing strict protective measures against the virus. The new challenges made it clear that healthcare providers can no longer remain efficient without the possibility to provide clinical services at a distance.
The main goal of telehealth technology is to take medical care to the new level by connecting people who seek medical care to remote doctors. In this article, we will explain how telehealth works and what benefits it can bring to patients and physicians.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is a method of delivering healthcare using telecommunication technologies. It allows clinicians to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients at a distance with the help of video conferencing tools and remote health monitoring solutions. A typical telehealth visit looks like a video call where a doctor gathers symptoms and other essential information about the person’s health conditions — just like during a traditional face-to-face appointment.
But in general, telehealth services cover all the ways a doctor and patient communicate with each other while being in geographically disparate locations. For example, besides live consultations, telehealth software can support a store-and-forward function that enables patients and clinical staff to securely share medical information.
The most popular telehealth use cases include follow-up visits, treatment of minor health issues, and management of chronic conditions. But this range is constantly growing as technologies evolve.
Some people prefer to use the term “telemedicine” instead of “telehealth”. There is a slight difference between them: telehealth has a broader scope and includes non-clinical services, for example, administrative meetings. Yet, for the purposes of this article, we will use “telehealth” and “telemedicine” interchangeably.
Advantages of telehealth for patients
The possibility to contact a doctor from any location that has internet coverage considerably improves patient experience and the overall quality of healthcare. The main benefits of telehealth services for patients include the following.
Statistics show that it takes about 19 days to get to see a physician from the moment a patient makes an appointment. Plus, the average face-to-face visit takes about 2 hours, including more than 1.5 hours of travel time. Having an option of a virtual visit means that a person doesn’t need to go to the clinic, take a day off from work, waste time in a waiting room, and deal with other hassle associated with in-person appointments. Telemedicine tools allow patients to reduce waiting time to just 5-10 minutes and spend about 13-15 minutes on the visit itself.
When it comes to the question of ‘what are the advantages of telehealth for patients?’, the accessibility of medical care will be one of the most important answers if we take the global perspective. Although it may seem that receiving clinical services isn’t a challenge for most people, the reality is quite different.
Living in rural areas often becomes an obstacle to getting timely care even in developed countries like the US. The reason is not only a long driving time but also the fact that the number of rural hospitals is constantly decreasing. The telehealth advantage is that it makes the distance insignificant, so people can easily access medical specialists regardless of where they live.
Better treatment outcomes
A study shows that patients who used telemedicine during the treatment process have fewer hospital admissions and readmissions. Why is it so? Many people who have some concerns about their health conditions don’t want to go to the hospital because it takes too much effort. By solving this issue, telemedicine encourages even the laziest and the busiest of us to be more attentive to our health. The early detection of disease often becomes critical for the ultimate treatment outcomes. Besides, the benefit of telemedicine is that it simplifies the monitoring of symptoms and follow-up consultations with a doctor so nothing is missed at the recovery stage.
No risk to catch a contagious disease
In a medical organization, a lot of sick people gather in one place. So every visit to a hospital or clinic is associated with an increased risk to be infected with a contagious disease. Even when a person comes to a doctor with some minor health issues, they may end up catching a dangerous virus like COVID-19. One of the telehealth benefits is that people don’t need to leave their homes to see a primary care specialist. To receive medical advice, they can just make a video call and stay in a safe place until they get better if no hospitalization is needed.
Self-management of health care
Seniors and people with chronic conditions need regular checkups with a doctor. But frequent traveling to care settings may be a real challenge, especially if a patient has limited mobility. In this context, the adoption of telemedicine has the potential to become a true game-changer. Remote consultations and monitoring can provide patients with the necessary support to manage their health conditions at home. In addition, the accessibility of medical care facilitates proactive communication with physicians about symptoms and vital signs. It ultimately leads to more effective treatment and safer use of medications.
Benefits of telehealth for doctors
Telemedicine benefits aren’t limited just to a number of advantages for patients. Clinicians can also see improvements in their working life after the implementation of telehealth solutions. Here are the most crucial of them:
Telehealth software provides medical staff with a convenient and secure communication channel, so it becomes much easier to get input from other specialists if necessary. For example, a primary care doctor may need to consult with a dermatologist or surgeon about the treatment of a patient having multiple diseases or a high risk of complications. With telemedicine tools, they can securely share medical history, lab results, X-ray images, etc. as well as organize a virtual meeting.
Lower risk of burnout
Telehealth adoption is an effective way to battle physician burnouts which is a common problem among medical professionals. Like most other real-life interactions, physical appointments require more time and energy than a video call. As a result, doctors feel more stressed at the end of the day so they are more likely to report poor work/life balance. According to the American Journal of Medicine, about half of the US physicians (54%) show symptoms of burnout.
Telemedicine solutions allow healthcare providers to reduce the number of in-person visits while delivering quality care to all patients who need it. This helps doctors maintain good physician-patient relationships, remain productive, and feel happier at work.
Telehealth systems don’t just provide patients and doctors with a secure platform for communication. They can also integrate with other solutions used by medical organizations and automate a significant portion of administrative work. For example, by connecting telemedicine software to EHR/EMR systems, hospitals can streamline the process of filling out the mandatory forms. As a result, doctors will be able to save a lot of time and shift the focus from paperwork to treating patients.
The potential of telehealth
The implementation of telemedicine can transform the healthcare industry as we know it today. By improving the connectivity between patients and doctors, this technology can become an essential part of solutions to many challenges faced by modern medical systems, for example:
- the fast spread of viruses and epidemics
- effective treatment of chronic conditions
- delivering proper care for the elderly
- accessibility and affordability of healthcare
- lack of hospitals in remote areas
- poor work/life balance of medical staff
In addition, studies show that the provision of clinical services remotely requires lower costs than traditional face-to-face visits. So investments in telemedicine can bring not only clinical but also economic benefits to all parties involved.
The coronavirus pandemic showed that the global healthcare system needs to adopt new technologies to keep fulfilling its functions effectively. Although the digital transformation of medical institutions requires a comprehensive approach, telemedicine is one of the most fundamental solutions that hospitals and clinics may implement to improve the quality of care. The wide use of telehealth software will make clinical services more convenient, accessible, and effective for patients. Doctors will also benefit from this technology since they’ll be able to get rid of mundane administrative tasks and consult with other specialists more easily.
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