Why telehealth is more than just a pandemic trend

Bill Siwicki for Healthcare It News

The COVID-19 pandemic brought telemedicine technology and services to a mainstream audience – like it or not.

As it turned out, studies have shown that a great many patients and providers like the flexibility that telemedicine affords.

Liz Fobare is vice president of product management at Tebra, a vendor of cloud-based clinical and practice management software for independent healthcare practices and billing companies. She contends that telehealth is far more than a pandemic trend.

In a discussion with Healthcare IT News, Fobare spells out the role telemedicine has grown to play during the pandemic, where healthcare goes with telehealth, how change may affect physicians and what virtual care might look like 10 years from now.

Q. What role has telemedicine grown to play during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic?

A. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine leveled the playing field by making healthcare more accessible. Overnight, telemedicine became a necessity for providers to deliver clinical care during COVID-19.

With telemedicine, healthcare providers could establish connections with a diverse array of patients from various economic backgrounds, age groups and locations. This allowed for triage and treatment of acute and chronic issues.

Not only was accessibility a huge win for the people, but so were improved patient outcomes. Research shows nearly 90% of individuals have a mobile device allowing them to reach doctors through a telehealth visit without the worry of pandemic exposure, challenges with transportation or unnecessary expense.

In addition, with the advances in telemedicine, many services that would have been previously impossible are now available to patients in remote locations.

Q. Where does the healthcare industry go from here with telehealth?

A. Patients today are demanding more of the providers that serve them. They want convenience, health insights and easy access to quality care. Specifically, they want providers to offer safe and innovative digital experiences that make them feel connected to their personal healthcare.

Our data show nearly 50% of patients prefer telehealth visits, and 50% of patients will leave their providers if they don’t offer telehealth.

From here, telehealth will evolve to strengthen patient-provider engagement. As patient expectations grow, telehealth will aid providers in meeting those demands by being the primary tool for a modern patient experience.

Looking ahead, practices and health systems will leverage telehealth for new ways to connect with patients, such as web conferences to share the latest information on various health topics proactively.

For preventive care, think about Ted Talks for patients. It’s an opportunity to connect with patients virtually to make healthcare feel inclusive and accessible for all patients. Advanced device integration will allow data flow between the providers’ EHR and patients’ personal devices. As a result, patients and providers will have easy access to patient progress.

Q. How do you see all of this affecting physicians and their busy schedules?

A. Although some may have been slow to adopt telemedicine, healthcare professionals across multiple disciplines quickly realized the benefits of telemedicine. With a HIPAA-secure communication channel and easy integration with personal devices, telemedicine removes challenges faced by remote and isolated patients.

For providers, who have crowded schedules, telemedicine saves time and money. Before the mass adoption of telemedicine, many patient appointments were missed or canceled at the last minute. However, practices that use telemedicine report a decrease in no-show appointments, resulting from the convenience of telemedicine options.

In addition, virtual care also offers more flexibility to the provider to backfill last-minute cancellations, providing patients with a more accessible opportunity to be seen quicker. Because visits held via telemedicine take less time than an in-person visit, providers can optimize their schedules without working longer hours.

Q. What will telemedicine look like 10 years from now? How will the technology be used, and how will it fit into clinical workflows?

A. Telemedicine has become the backbone of healthcare and will continue to evolve long into the future. Eventually, telemedicine will become the primary care delivery model, combined with better diagnostic tools, device integration and data interoperability.

Studies predict that continued telemedicine usage will improve the quality of care and reduce healthcare spending anywhere from 15% to 20%. Moreover, accessibility to healthcare will continue to climb. Underserved communities will be able to obtain care with only their personal devices quickly and easily.

This integrated ecosystem will provide patients and providers with real-time insights into patient health and enhance preventative care measures. This is crucial because many patients today are frustrated with the lack of connection to their providers.

Oftentimes, providers are looking for patient health information from disparate systems and do not have a complete picture of the patients’ journey. Telemedicine offers a future where patients and providers are empowered with health information.

Imagine an app where patients can easily reference their healthcare records, insights and personalized recommendations, while also allowing providers to check progress in real time and offer feedback. This allows for more meaningful conversation, care plans and renewed trust in the patient-provider relationship.

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