Many people are unaware of how telehealth can address today’s healthcare challenges making few strategies as unquestionably useful as telehealth. This article sheds light on the impact of telehealth. It also addresses the question of why it is important to look at telehealth now versus later.
Telehealth is a driving force for addressing current challenges in the healthcare landscape:
|Challenge||How Telehealth addresses the challenge|
|Decreasing supply of physicians: The Council on Graduate Medical Education projected that by 2020, the shortage of physicians would reach 85,000, while some experts predict a shortfall of 200,000.||Telehealth enables the limited supply of specialists to reach a broader population of patients, unencumbered by distance. Rural hospitals find it particularly beneficial to give their patients access to a specialty physician who would never have enough patient volume to work solely at the rural facility, but who does have the capacity to make recommendations for the patient remotely.|
|Increasing demand for care:65 million baby boomers will become Medicare enrollees over the next decade, creating more demand for access to the already limited supply of specialists.||Telehealth enables the increasing population of patients to access specialists or clinicians who may not be in the same care environment as the patient.|
|Rising costs and Declining reimbursements: Healthcare costs continue to exceed the pace of inflation, and payers are reducing reimbursements in order to distribute limited funds across a wide spectrum of insurable services.||Telehealth increases access to specialty physicians whose specific knowledge about the standards of care for the patient’s condition can decrease unnecessary tests, procedures, admissions, readmissions, and patient transfers, and even enable care facilities to reduce lengths of stay. All of these benefits contribute to lower costs and better margins for fixed-reimbursement diagnoses.|
The combination of decreasing supply, increasing demand, and rising costs create a “perfect storm” of challenges in healthcare. As a key solution for weathering this perfect storm, telehealth is critical to the future of healthcare. In addition to helping address the key challenges above, telehealth is foundational in supporting resolution of other important requirements listed below:
|Challenge||How Telehealth addresses the challenge|
|Increasing demand for quality care: Government regulations, payers, and providers increasingly emphasize use of quality measures which are associated with patient outcomes, measurement of quality statistics||Telehealth reduces inefficient use of healthcare resources, optimizes access to the best available resources for patient care, and can also reduce variability in applying standards of care. Efficiency, optimization, and predictability are critical quality metrics.|
|Increasing demand for mobility: Increasing demand for anytime, anywhere access||Telehealth leverages digital, web and wireless technologies to enable information exchange across disparate locations, enabling clinicians and patients to interact without having to be face-to-face.|
|Increasing emphasis on true “health” care as opposed to “sick” care, generating new emphasis on wellness and preventive care.||Telehealth uses technologies like remote monitoring and web-connected implantable devices to anticipate problems before they emerge, and tools such as proactive consultations, which can help patients more consistently care for their health.|
Why consider telehealth now?
Healthcare technology is undergoing rapid changes with the advent of technical evolutions in the Internet and wireless arenas. In addition, healthcare legislation is advocating for meaningful use of electronic health records (EHR), reimbursement tied to quality measures, and shared savings through accountable care organizations (ACO).
- Competition in health care is going virtual. The number of telemedicine programs have been steadily increasing over the last four decades. Healthcare institutions who are behind the curve may miss out on the relationships with other institutions that could end up joining other telehealth networks.
- Government has set aside millions of dollars in funds to advance solutions which improve patient access to care and quality of care.
- Many physicians are looking for a new approach to practicing medicine, either because they want to leverage technology to provide novel approaches to care or want to focus directly on applying their clinical expertise rather than spending time on administration, reimbursement, marketing, and the many other business concerns they did not anticipate when they began their medical careers.
Nirav Desai regularly hosts a web-based video interview show where industry pioneers and executives share their insights and expertise on telehealth success.
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