If you want a practical definition of a win-win, look no further than telemedicine.
One of the hot trends in healthcare right now (there were more than 200 telemedicine bills
introduced in state legislatures last year), telemedicine benefits patients through flexibility, improves administration through efficiency, and rewards doctors and healthcare organizations with increased revenue and cost savings. Everyone wins.
However, like any new technology, there still are challenges that must be overcome. Specifically, issues around reliability.
First, let’s take a closer look at the benefits that come from telemedicine and why health systems are eying it so closely.
Benefit #1: Improved Patient Flow
One of the chief benefits of telemedicine is better patient scheduling.
With telemedicine, patients meet with physicians from the comfort of their home. This not only is good for the patient, it also means that healthcare providers can more efficiently schedule patients and control the flow for optimum efficiency.
By calling patients via video chat when the physician is ready instead of having them queue in a waiting room, healthcare providers can ensure a continuous, steady flow of patients. This eases the burden on physicians while also allowing for tighter scheduling.
Benefit #2: Less Missed Appointments
The average medical practice sees a no-show rate or between 5% and 10%, according to MGMA Consulting
. This amounts to a significant amount of wasted time and lost revenue for healthcare providers.
Telemedicine cuts down on missed appointments by addressing many of the common reasons that patients fail to show up to appointments. Because patients don’t need to drive to their appointment, traffic is never an issue. The same is true for being stuck at the office since patients can connect from their smartphone. Further, finding someone to take care of the kids is not a problem either since appointments can happen at home while parents are watching their children.
Benefit #3: Attracts New Patients
Nobody likes waiting for their doctor appointment. This is a universal truth, like death and taxes. Because patients can meet with their physician online instead of having to visit a healthcare facility, patients love telemedicine. It is both less hassle and also a sign that the healthcare provider is cutting edge.
In fact, a survey by Software Advice
found that roughly three-fourths of all patients are interested in telemedicine appointments. This makes telemedicine an enticing service that attracts new patients.
Benefit #4: Helps Retain Existing Patients
Not only does telemedicine attract new patients, it also helps to keep existing patients. Scheduling and seeing a physician online is more convenient for patients, and healthcare providers can expand service hours since physicians can work from home and see patients at odd hours of the day when they’re free, too.
Adding hours of operation can be an important revenue booster for healthcare providers. Nearly 71% of all emergency room visits are not necessary, according to a Truven Health Analytics study
. Patients often use emergency room care because they cannot see their regular physician fast enough. With expanded hours, these patients have less need to use an emergency room and can instead go to their regular doctor for questions and issues.
Benefit #5: Better Monetize Consultations
Patient needs don’t stop when physicians go home for the day. Despite attempts at steering patients toward office-hour appointments, the reality is that there are times when physicians must talk with patients after-hours.
With telemedicine, these after-hour consultations need not go unbilled. Instead, healthcare providers can offer on-demand telemedicine appointments and bill patients for these after-hour consultations like regular appointments are billed. This properly monetizes work that has historically gone unbilled.
Hurdle: Poor Network Connections
Telemedicine offers much, but there also are challenges. The biggest is video reliability from poor Internet connectivity.
“Reliability is critical,” says Tony Zhao, CEO of video communications firm Agora.io
. “You can’t have video or audio that cuts out for those who need to rely on telemedicine, namely rural populations and the elderly. Not to mention younger patients who would use telemedicine for convenience-sake and expect things to work clearly and seamlessly the first time.”
Since connectivity issues can come from network traffic or the patient’s end of the connection, healthcare providers can’t solve the problem by investing in better infrastructure. This poses a significant hurdle for telemedicine.
This hurdle is not insurmountable. For instance, Agora.io monitors and reroutes telemedicine connections in real-time with more than 80 data centers. It also optimizes the video and audio data packets so they work in low-bandwidth environments.
So there still are challenges, but none that limit the potential of telemedicine for healthcare providers and their patients.