Do you remember when telehealth was a new idea? Maybe it’s difficult to recall, but less than 10 years ago, we were often asked if telehealth was legal!
In 2018, our freshbenies clients reached 51% telehealth utilization - just one indicator that telehealth has grown at a significant pace over the past few years. I have personally used telehealth over the past 6 years and found that the doctors are very knowledgeable, quickly diagnose and accurately provide solutions. In addition, I get access to high-quality care when I can’t get into my own doctor for common medical issues.
Today, 80% of medical plans include a form of telehealth. Much of the appeal lies in accessibility. With an average 24-day wait to get a doctor’s appointment and shrinking provider networks, it’s time to ask: how can we leverage telehealth to help with more than acute care needs?
I’m sharing 5 ways telehealth gives more access to care today and will continue to grow in the future...
1. Behavioral Health
An October 2018 study reveals that American mental health services are insufficient. Despite high demand, the root of the problem is lack of access or the ability to find care. Consider these stats:
- 141 million American adults have considered or already sought mental health treatment
- 96.5 million Americans live in areas with shortages of mental health providers
- 87% of Gen Z and Millennials have sought information on mental health, compared to 78% of Gen X and 66% of Boomers
Telehealth services can help meet the high demand. Secure video-chats allow medical providers and patients to connect emotionally through conversation. This ability could quickly change behavioral health in four key areas:
- Alleviate the widespread shortage of mental healthcare professionals
- Increase accessibility and convenience, while decreasing price to patients in need
- Help patients avoid stigma and receive treatment from the privacy of their home
- Aid in the opioid crisis - addiction is an epidemic, especially in more rural areas that have less options for care
“We know that a lack of regular access to dermatology providers results in poor health outcomes,” according to April Armstrong, MD, MPH, The Keck School of Medicine. She recently presented a study that showed patients who used dermatology online treatment had the same or better outcomes than those visiting a doctor’s office.
Teledermatology is available in many states and is being used by patients directly – or by Primary Care Physicians who want to help their patients with a dermatological issue. How does it work? The patient or patient’s PCP uploads a pic of the affected area to a secure link for review. The dermatologist then reviews and provides a diagnosis.
“It’s much more efficient to take these images and have a dermatologist interpret them than it is to schedule an office visit,” Tom Scornavacca, MD, a family practice physician and Senior Medical Director of UMass Memorial Health.
3. Physical Therapy
Physical therapy helps patients regain movement or strength after an injury or illness, but accessibility is an issue. Ellen Bunn, Clinical Program Manager at Physera, says patients often face “PT deserts” - a lack of available physical therapy services in certain areas of the country. Delivering physical therapy via telemedicine is in the infancy stage, but there are a few companies servicing patients.
How does it work? Physical therapists connect with a patient via video. Together, they build a recovery plan. Ongoing support is offered to target pain with guided exercises, video monitoring and a library of resources. This can be used for pain management, workers comp and post-surgical rehabilitation. PT telehealth has the ability to…
- Complete a quick screening of the issue
- Intake a patient’s history
- Conduct exams
- Provide post-discharge checkups
- Offer additional wellness and preventative advice depending on the patients needs
4. Second Opinions
Patients with complicated health cases need fast options for getting a second opinion or more information on a diagnosis. Telehealth offers the ability for an independent review from specialists that might normally take months to get in-person - and often require travel. Patients can get access to major medical institutions like the Cleveland Clinic and Partners Healthcare (through Harvard).
Several companies offer these services which work in a variety of ways. In most cases, a patient submits their medical records to board-certified doctors. A clinical expert works directly with the patient and the patient’s physicians, if warranted. This allows patients to:
- ask additional questions
- ensure a diagnosis is correct
- receive education about their diagnosis
- make the most informed decision
- have peace of mind that their treatment plan is optimal, including new and innovative options
5. Chronic Care
By 2025, an estimated 164 million people will be affected by chronic illness. Patients with chronic conditions account for 81% of hospital admissions, 91% of filled prescriptions, and 76% of physician visits.
Physical office visits can take a personal toll on those who suffer with diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and asthma. Yet, patients who receive the proper amount of support and monitoring are more likely to be successful with compliance. Telemedicine can help in a number of ways:
- Medication management – ensuring the right dose and frequency
- Triage new symptoms
- Managing risk such as weight, smoking cessation, or specific dietary changes
As patients gain access to quality physicians and outcomes continue to improve, telemedicine will continue to expand in scale and scope. Many medical specialties have “low-hanging fruit” areas where telehealth can be a big help. The question truly is, “What’s next?”
Now it’s your turn! Where do you think telemedicine will go? Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.