In 2020, many physicians and their patients had their first experiences with telemedicine. As the pandemic closed clinics and vulnerable patients stayed home, telehealth solutions were implemented at a much more rapid pace than ever before.
As with many of the changes that have resulted from safety precautions and stay-at-home orders, I expect the increase in the practice of telemedicine is one of those practices that will continue to remain more prevalent after the pandemic subsides. At some point, this “new normal” will simply become “normal.”
Telemedicine is not perfect, and there are many physician-patient interactions that can only happen in person. Nevertheless, there are many benefits for both the patient and physician. Today’s guest post from an anonymous reader focuses on the financial side of things, primarily from the perspective of a physician practice.
I will point out, though, that telemedicine can save patients both money and time. Transportation is unnecessary, there is no waiting room with old magazines, and copays and charges may be lower in some cases, as well.
How Telemedicine Can Save You and Your Practice Money
As we advance, the digitalization of our everyday lives becomes increasingly widespread. This fact is no less prevalent in the healthcare industry. On top of an advancing medical landscape, the current COVID-19 pandemic has made telehealth not only convenient, but revolutionary in helping provide patients with proper care.
Telemedicine also has the added benefit of a reduced cost for health care delivery, education, and other necessary services.
A study from the American Journal of Emergency Medicine shows that remote care saved an average of $19-$121 per patient through an online consultation compared to traditional doctor visits. Virtual visits can improve patient engagement with check-ins, medication monitoring, and management of chronic conditions.
For many healthcare systems, the use of telemedicine software means digitizing their workflow, which reduces physical paperwork needed and lost medical records. This helps save both money and increase efficiency for all parties involved. Providers can also maximize their work time by using e-health software with waiting room options. This enables billing practices to become more accurate and less time-intensive.
Patient Retention and New Patient Opportunities
Other benefits of telehealth include a higher patient retention rate within your practice. Since hours can be more flexible, people will be more inclined to find a time that works with their primary physician rather than scheduling an appointment with someone new.
Patients will also be discouraged to show up to the emergency room unnecessarily for things that a scheduled visit could address. Instead, they could simply use an off-hours virtual appointment to communicate their needs. A short, surprise meeting is easier to fit into your schedule digitally rather than in the office—saving both you and your patients time.
This not only reduces the cost for the patient, but it helps to keep those patients in your care. After all, any medical visit your patients make outside of your practice is lost revenue that you could be earning.
According to the CDC, people living in rural areas of the United States are more likely to die prematurely due to limited access to health resources. Many times, this can be attributed to an inability to afford the care needed. With the accessibility and efficiency of e-health, millions of new patients will have access to the proper care they require.
Even in areas with clinician shortages, telehealth allows patients and physicians to connect more consistently, and in turn introduce more earnings into your medical practice.
Overhead Cost Reduction
Telehealth visits, in essence, only need a stable internet connection or in some cases just a phone line. The rapid increase of administrative costs associated with insurance and legal expenditures, rather than the actual medical care itself, has strained healthcare systems.
It’s often more efficient to use a simplified system such as telehealth. With proper utilization, virtual care can eliminate or mitigate many of these costs.
At first glance, it may seem that patients benefit most from this type of care. It may appear that telehealth could be harmful to the revenue stream of the healthcare system overall, as well. However, both of those misconceptions fail to see the benefits for practitioners.
There are many upsides for physicians including a reduction in administrative costs and the ability to practice more independently. Working virtually also means you can take on more flexible hours, which can help diminish the cost of consistently working in the office.
Not only can you reduce or flex your own hours, but those of your staff as well if paid hourly. This flexible schedule may also improve employee satisfaction and in turn lower the cost of high turnover.
Legal Risk Mitigation
The risk associated with improper documentation and follow-ups can be mitigated through the practice of remote medicine. Sources state one of the most frequent issues that led practices to face lawsuits were mis-documentation and failure to properly follow-up with a patient.
If a physician takes an emergency call when the office is closed without the ability to meet virtually, there is a chance that they may not properly document the visit. Unfortunately, this mis-documentation could lead to expensive lawsuits and risk-management costs.
However, with a proper telemedicine system in place, documentation should be easy and efficient which can not only save time and money, but can help prevent the possibility of future lawsuits.
Currently, there is no set standard regarding telehealth and reimbursement from insurance companies, which can be a deterrent for patients considering e-health. However, there are many states that have parity laws which require reimbursement at the same rate as in-person visits.
In addition, as the legitimacy of practicing digitally continues to be more widely recognized due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems inevitable that those policies will become more commonplace. This could lead to a surge of resources and income for those who provide the option of virtual medicine.
Quality of Care Improvements
Nowadays, people living with rare diseases, and the clinicians who treat them, are turning to online platforms to improve care management and coordination. With complex or rare diseases, multiple health care professionals are generally involved to handle patient needs.
Practicing remotely can enable and support communication and collaboration between different teams or specialists involved in a patient’s care—further eliminating the time and resources it takes for back-and-forth communication.
In many cases, rare disease patients do not receive adequate support to manage their symptoms and side effects during treatment. This results in a large number of patients visiting emergency departments, many of whom have to be hospitalized. Overall, this can end up costing more money than it would to handle the patient’s needs in the first place.
In many of the cases where patients are given a poor prognosis, time is essential in preventing excess medical costs and to improve the overall survival rate of these patients. There are many rare diseases with low life expectancies that can find benefits from the utilization of e-health. Mesothelioma cancer fits this profile to a T. With a life expectancy from anywhere between 12 and 21 months, patients who are diagnosed with this disease can connect with doctors earlier into the diagnosis, which can allow more treatment options to be viable.
Even other, less deadly but still quite worrisome diseases such as the current COVID-19 can benefit from telemedicine implementation. It can mitigate the risk of the disease spreading and increase the quality of care for those quarantined. However, the one glaring drawback to virtual care with COVID-19 specifically is the lack of testing.
Investing in the Future
It is important to note, however, that in order to maximize savings from implementing these services, proper telemedicine equipment should already be on site. In addition, there are individuals who prefer a more face-to-face connection with their doctors along with the fact that some illnesses and diseases require inpatient treatment rather than an online appointment.
With that being said, it seems that with the ever-increasing cost of healthcare, the benefits of virtual care are steadily starting to outweigh the drawbacks when compared to traditional medicine practices.
With the current outlook on the future of medical care, and the progressing COVID-19 landscape, it’s easy to imagine that medical centers will be quick to adopt virtual medicine into their everyday practices. In addition to monetary savings of nearly 19% when switching over from inpatient care, there has also been evidence that quality of care can actually improve as well, which can keep patients coming back.
To summarize, telehealth certainly has drawbacks associated with it, but the benefits of decreased cost and increased medical coverage country-wide certainly make a strong case for the improvement and investment in telemedicine for the future.