Amid rampant innovation facilitated by digital healthcare delivery and support, there have been several key milestones that have improved patients’ treatment experience and increased the ease with which they’re able to interact with their care providers; one of these is the advent of telehealth medicine, or simply telehealth. The term is defined as a collection of means or methods for enhancing healthcare, public health and health education delivery and support using telecommunications technologies.
Expanding on the concept of telemedicine, telehealth encompasses a comprehensive array of healthcare services delivered through digital tools. It has been used more and more in the diagnosis, treatment, condition management, and medication processes within various healthcare specialties, including general health, dentistry and oral care, behavioral health, post-surgical care and more.
Data from Deloitte indicates that nearly a quarter of American healthcare consumers have had a telehealth appointment with a care provider, a number that is sure to grow in the next few years. Global engagement with telehealth services has increased from around 350,000 patients per year to just over seven million over the past five years.
At its core, telehealth has reduced the rigidity of the traditional healthcare experience, making it easier for patients to connect with their care providers, specialists, pharmacists and all other relevant stakeholders in their care interactions. Every time someone has to go for a traditional office visit, they’re faced with a series of logistical circumstances that may be difficult to navigate (transportation, taking time off from work, mobility, etc.). These problems are particularly prevalent in underserved communities, where barriers to care already exist on multiple levels.
Telehealth reduces the anxiety, stress, and logistical hassle associated with the traditional physician’s office visit. Research from Merritt-Hawkins indicates that the average wait time for a new patient physician appointment is 24 days. At the same time, the average wait time for most telehealth visits is approximately 20 minutes. In addition to the convenience, telehealth visits offer significant cost-savings to both patients and providers, with some figures putting the price of the average visit at $40.
There are multiple avenues through which the telehealth paradigm can increase access to care. As the field continues to evolve, care providers and partner companies are finding more and more intuitive ways to leverage technology to increase convenience, comfort and results in patients’ care journeys.
Some of the most effective modes of telehealth intervention include:
Virtual office visits
Virtual office visits generally provide a comparable level of care and guidance to in-office visits and allow patients to skip the hassle and waiting. A 2017 consumer satisfaction study from American Well said that telehealth visits resolved patients’ concerns 85 percent of the time, versus just 64 percent of the time for brick-and-mortar appointments. They also report that the average virtual office visit is around 13-17 minutes versus the two-hour average of a regular office visit.
Mobile technology to increase patient education and support
Care providers are leveraging mobile devices as a 24-7 library, companion, and emotional-support system for patients diagnosed with all types of conditions. From the diabetic who needs a text reminder to take their insulin or learn about the importance of wound care, to the cancer patient who’s running a fever and needs immediate assistance, to the patient with high cholesterol who needs educational resources on what foods to avoid, the possibilities are endless, and there more examples emerging every day.
Online patient portal
Online patient portals represent a safe, secure and convenient way to review test results, request refills on your prescriptions, communicate with your care provider or their staff, schedule appointments, request appointment reminders and fill out essential screening forms and other types of paperwork. More and more primary care physicians and specialists are integrating online portals into their practices, claiming they save time and help them more maximize their time with patients.
Remote monitoring capabilities give patients the peace of mind and assurance of knowing they’re always connected to their care provider in some way. This process uses web or mobile apps, wearable devices, home-monitoring units and other kinds of devices to record, measure and transmit valuable patient information like blood glucose readings, blood pressure numbers, lung function, cholesterol and more. This information can then be monitored in real time so patients can receive support and intervention if their readings are concerning.