How Telemedicine Improves the Efficiency of Healthcare
Telemedicine is a relatively new approach to delivering healthcare, but it is growing in popularity quite rapidly. In 2015, the global telemedicine market was estimated at some USD 18 billion. But it more than doubled in just three years and is now anticipated to hit USD 57.7 billion by 2023.
The main reason for such dynamic market development is the evolution of technologies. Yet, it is the critical need for the improved efficiency of medical services that drives the whole process forward.
In this article, we will explain how telemedicine works and what role it plays in revolutionizing the healthcare industry.
What is Telemedicine?
Simply put, telemedicine is the practice of providing clinical services at a distance with the help of telecommunications technology. It allows physicians to evaluate, diagnose, and consult patients remotely either for the sake of convenience or when an in-person visit is impossible for some reason.
Typically, telemedicine is conducted via video call between a clinician and a person seeking medical advice. Communication in real-time helps to make the process quite similar to a traditional appointment when a doctor and a patient are located in one room. The only difference is that a doctor cannot physically touch a patient. So a large focus is put on the assessment of symptoms and detailing a patient’s medical history.
But telemedicine isn’t limited just to video conferencing; it also includes remote patient monitoring (or telemonitoring). For example, a physician may receive alerts from the patient’s mobile medical device measuring his or her critical health indicators (e.g., blood pressure, blood sugar) when something goes wrong.
Also, telemedicine covers sharing medical information (e.g., lab results, ultrasound images, etc.) over distance. This possibility comes in handy when a primary care physician needs to consult with other specialists for more accurate patient assessment.
How Telemedicine Differs From Telehealth
Many people use the terms “telemedicine” and “telehealth” interchangeably. But it is not quite right. Telehealth is a broad field that refers to all health-related services provided with the help of telecommunications solutions. This means that it includes not only clinical services but also administrative meetings, conferences, presentations, medical education, etc.
On the contrary, the term telemedicine may refer exclusively to treating patients. It does cover preventive care, according to the World Health Organization. But all non-clinical health services fall out of its scope.
The wide adoption of telehealth is needed to take the efficiency of the healthcare industry to the next level. But the implementation of telemedicine is a crucial stage in this process since it brings the most noticeable changes to all parties involved, including healthcare institutions, physicians, and patients.
Key Industry Challenges That Telemedicine Helps to Resolve
Ensuring quality patient care is one of the main goals of a healthcare system. But to achieve it, medical services should be accessible throughout all areas where people reside. The efficiency of healthcare providers must also be at the top level since the patients’ well-being directly depends on it.
The wide adoption of telemedicine helps to meet these requirements by eliminating the biggest barriers to top-notch healthcare delivery.
Lack of Hospitals in Remote Areas
Residents of big cities rarely have a problem with finding a doctor nearby. But, unfortunately, we cannot say the same for people living in remote, unpopulated areas. Due to the lack of rural hospitals, they sometimes have to travel long distances to receive treatment.
With telemedicine, patients can connect with a doctor from their homes and obtain care regardless of their location.
Spread of Contagious Diseases
The number and span of infectious diseases are increasing globally. The spread of Coronavirus recently has made people aware of the importance of having a robust healthcare system that is accessible to people everywhere.
Even if we don’t touch each other, infections and viruses can be transmitted on dust particles, for example, when someone sneezes or coughs. In case an infected person has no other choice but to visit a medical institution to get a consultation physically, he or she may put many other people at risk.
Telemedicine can be an effective solution to this problem. It allows patients to receive diagnosis and treatment advice at their current locations, so the speed at which the disease is spread is much lower.
Treatment of Elderly People
Senior citizens, especially those who have chronic diseases, usually require regular health monitoring. But frequent in-person visits to a doctor may be too tedious for them and, in some cases, can lead to an even greater decline in health.
At the same time, a video call with a physician is almost effortless, even for patients with decreased mobility. That’s why elderly people who can receive appropriate care in the comfort of their homes stay more engaged and committed. Naturally, their outcomes are also much better.
On the other end, telemedicine helps physicians to detect a health problem that seniors experience at an early stage, so the treatment may be provided before the problem gets too bad.
Burnout Among Healthcare Professionals
As mentioned, telemedicine is beneficial not only for patients but also for doctors. It allows clinicians to reduce the number of physical appointments that saves both their time and energy.
The matter is that virtual appointments are usually quicker than physical visits because a doctor and a patient are less distracted and more focused on the conversation. In addition, telemedicine solutions automate many routine processes, so doctors don’t spend so much time on administrative work.
Lastly, video calls are considered less exhausting than real-life communication. So the implementation of telemedicine is a perfect measure to prevent burnout among physicians.
New Market Demands
Nowadays, the pace of life is faster than ever before. A lot of people are too busy to visit a doctor if the issue seems non-urgent to them or if it’s just a follow-up appointment. Besides, internet users are accustomed to receiving many services online, and they often apply the same expectations to healthcare.
A study shows that 40 percent of millennials say that having an option of telemedicine is extremely or very important to them. So the standards are high, and telemedicine can help healthcare providers adapt to the new market requirements.
Lack of Resources
In-person visits require a lot of costs and resources from healthcare institutions. From a patient’s perspective, it may seem that you just need to ensure a room and a doctor for an appointment. But it’s not quite so. A hospital has to maintain a large infrastructure to provide all patients with high-quality services.
In addition, there should be a sufficient number of administrative staff, including managers, receptionists, nurses, etc., to maintain all operations.
At the same time, telemedicine is a much cost-effective option. A healthcare provider still needs to have facilities and personnel for offline visits. But since more patients are kept out of expensive care settings, a hospital has an opportunity to generate savings.
For example, research by Healthleadersmedia shows that cost savings from each avoided non-emergency visit constitute, on average, $114. For the emergency visits, this figure is even higher and ranges from $309 to more than $1,500.
How to Start a Telemedicine Practice
Implementing telemedicine services isn’t just about buying new equipment; it’s a somewhat complex process. To complete it successfully, a healthcare provider has to go through several important stages:
Step 1. Research and Planning
Telemedicine either changes or has an impact on many aspects of healthcare delivery, so a medical organization should do some preliminary work before proceeding to practical steps. Here’s the list of issues that need to be studied.
- Legislative Framework
The healthcare industry is subject to strict regulations in most countries. That’s why a solid understanding of telemedicine laws is a must for any institution that plans to incorporate this type of service into its activity. In the US, the rules also vary from state to state. So getting consultation from a medical law expert is highly recommended.
- The Human Factor
Although telemedicine makes the life of clinicians easier, some of them may be reluctant to implement any changes to the existing practices. To avoid skepticism and resistance among medical staff, ask them what they think about telemedicine services. If needed, arrange some meetings with presentations. This will help you ensure that all team members are on the same page.
Maintaining a telemedicine practice requires costs. Besides initial funding, a healthcare organization should calculate how much money it needs to keep everything running permanently.
- Tech Audit
To start delivering telemedicine services, an organization needs to acquire a telemedicine solution. So it’s crucial to understand if there is an appropriate IT environment for future changes and make all necessary technical preparations.
The more information is gathered during this stage, the better. After the research is completed, you can build a plan for telemedicine implementation. It should contain information about the goals your organization wants to achieve, a timeline, milestones, and other important details.
Step 2. Deciding on Telemedicine Software
Like with any other software, you have two options here, either buy a ready-made platform or develop a custom telemedicine solution.
The best telemedicine software, such as Chiron Health, Doxy.me, PrognoCIS EHR, Mendfamily, InTouch Health, etc., have a variety of features that cover almost all your requirements. And, you can also try the free and open-source telemedicine software.
The stakes are high, so choosing among a ready-made solution and custom telemedicine solution might be quite challenging. But the following questions should steer you in the right direction.
- Does the project have some budget restrictions?
Purchasing an out-of-the-box solution will be cheaper, so it suits best for healthcare providers having a limited budget that cannot be exceeded. The development of custom telemedicine software will require more time and money, but the maintenance costs will likely be lower.
- How many virtual visits do you plan to complete?
A ready-made system may have a limited capacity, meaning that it won’t allow you to complete more visits than it’s pre-defined by a vendor. Besides, vendors offer different pricing plans depending on the size of the practice. So you need to consider all these factors before making a choice. It’s also a nice idea to put some thoughts on the future development of your organization. Custom solutions are more scalable, so they provide much better opportunities for potential growth.
- What functions do you want to have in the telemedicine solution?
Making the list of functions will help you find out if there is a ready-made telemedicine solution fitting your needs that is already offered in the market. Basic functionality that most medical organizations request includes video conferencing, screen share, patient/doctor profile, online scheduling, EMR integration, billing/payment integration, etc.
Another recommendation is to decide which of the features fall into the “must-have” category and separate those features from other functionality that isn’t a priority. Custom software development allows you to be more flexible with the feature-set. So if you opt for it, you can select only the functions that your organization actually needs.
In addition, a tailor-made solution can be more easily integrated with other software. As a result, all the components of the IT ecosystem will work better together.
Step 3. Rollout and Monitoring
The rollout stage isn’t limited just to turning on new equipment and installing new software. Medical staff and patients have to utilize this way of healthcare delivery; otherwise, a telemedicine practice won’t bring the expected results to your healthcare institution. For instance, internal training will help physicians feel more confident about what telemedicine services they can offer.
Besides, you’ll need to put some resources into marketing and promotion to inform people about the possibility of a virtual appointment instead of an in-person visit.
When your telemedicine practice is up and running, it’s also important to collect some feedback. Patients and doctors can provide valuable insights into what may be changed or improved.
Putting It Together!
Telemedicine can take the healthcare industry to a completely new level. By enabling remote consultations with physicians and remote health monitoring, it helps to resolve many critical issues. For example, telemedicine implementation may become a solution to such problems as poor accessibility of medical care in remote areas, the rapid spread of viruses and infections, excessive workload of clinicians, and high costs of traditional appointments.
To start a telemedicine practice, a healthcare institution needs to do research, prepare a plan, choose telemedicine software, train doctors, and make patients aware of the new service.
Technology-empowered telemedicine software has brought a turning point in telemedicine by making it available world over. Here is a list of the top telemedicine software by GoodFirms for you to try. And, if you have tried one, do post a review!
Telemedicine software has been a blessing for the patients living in rural areas, or in a condition where they cannot travel to the specialist of their choice. The use of ... continue reading