The Changing State of Health Care: Using the Power of the Internet to Reach More Patients and Enhance Outcomes
The Changing State of Health Care: Using the Power of the Internet to Reach More Patients and Enhance Outcomes
by Mackenzie Thompson
Life Saver, AMC
posted on Jun 28, 2017, at 4:36 pm
HOW PEOPLE ACCESS HEALTH CARE IS CHANGING. Modern technologies, including the internet, have transformed the health industry, allowing providers to reach more patients, enhance treatment outcomes and even roll back its excessive costs. Meanwhile, the list of health app startups and telehealth providers seems to be expanding daily, reports The Economist.
Most associate telehealth with today’s health care apps. In reality, telehealth is not truly a new concept, but how is that possible?
First, consider telehealth’s root words, tele- and health. The prefix, tele-, indicates doing something across distance, so telehealth literally means health across distances.
The term was coined in the 1970s, but its definition was broad and did not consider specialists or certain types of health care, “healing at a distance,” reports the World Health Organization (WHO). However, there have been more than 100 specific definitions created to further define telehealth, so the WHO has created a standard definition to encompass its scope and impact on health care.
Telehealth refers to the delivery of all health care services, when distance would otherwise prevent access to health care, by any and all health professions using technologies to exchange valid information for the complete, ongoing diagnosis, treatment, prevention, research and evaluation and continuing education of both patients and providers.
This definition emphasizes its unlimited capacity and adaptability to new, emerging technologies and the exchange of information to improve both individual and public health. As a result, it is important to understand how telehealth is truly changing the world of health care.
Where Does Telemedicine Stand Today?
Telehealth, including telemedicine, has the potential to change the standards throughout health care. It can be used to reduce wait times and use the power of entire medical teams to help one person with an unusual or trying condition. This means wide-ranging benefits and use in oncology, skilled nursing, chronic disease management, behavioral health and more. According to Becker’s Health IT and CIO Review, some prominent telehealth statistics include the following:
- Telehealth will grow at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.3 percent between now and 2020.
- The value of telehealth will exceed $36 billion by 2020, more than doubling in value from today.
- Most states are authoring and passing legislation, adding up to more than 200 bills, to foster the growth and development of telehealth.
- Today, 29 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws mandated health insurers cover telehealth visits and wellness technologies.
- Approximately 35 percent of health facilities offer telehealth services, and by 2018, more than 50 percent of health facilities will offer telehealth services.
- 70 percent of employers, including all sectors of the economy, offer telehealth services as an added benefit to employees.
- When given a choice between an in-office visit and telehealth visit, such as an appointment through an app, 64 percent prefer the video appointment.
- Most U.S. physicians (57 percent), including private practices, are already exploring the possibility of offering telehealth services to their patients.
- Nine out of 10 health care organizations’ executives are “extremely interested” in offering telehealth, including now developing or implementing a telehealth program within the next two years.
- Telehealth will expand to serve more than 7 million patients by 2018, nearly 2100-percent more than the number of users in 2013.
- Most health care visits (75 percent), made up of in-office visits, urgent care trips and emergency room visits, are “unnecessary” and can be handled successfully through telemedicine.
- Nearly 20 percent of Americans in rural areas will have access to health care through telehealth due to the need to travel long distances today to see a provider in-office.
The Benefits of Telehealth.
While the statistics are staggering, telehealth offers many benefits and advantages over traditional, in-office visits. However, it is important to not minimize existing patients’ concerns over not being seen in-office. Rather than looking at the challenges in telehealth, consider the following benefits:
- The key benefit of telehealth is increasing access to health care. This includes providing health services not currently near a given patient. For example, a parent with an ill child in need of a specialist may have to travel great distances to access care today. Through telehealth, the parent may access a specialist remotely, using local health care facilities to obtain necessary lab work or testing.
- Telehealth comes at a lower cost than traditional, in-office visits as well. Telehealth costs mean a facility does not incur the added labor costs or supply costs of consultations or seeing patients. In other words, health care costs may decrease as facilities are able to recoup most the costs billed through telehealth. As a result, overall billing rates may decrease, allowing health executives to offer additional services in communities, like sliding-scale services for those without health insurance.
- There is an immense freedom in telehealth for health care providers, ranging from doctors to nursing staff. Since the patient is not necessarily being seen in a facility, the number of hours spent working on-site may decrease. This means fewer labor costs and better management of working hours, a key concern for areas facing health provider shortages.
- Another benefit of telehealth is simple: since it relies on using the internet or other technology to see patients, more patients can be seen and have their health addressed faster. By some accounts, average wait times to see a family provider or time spent in the waiting room may have risen 30 percent in recent years, reports Bruce Japsen of Forbes magazine. Given recent news regarding the extensive, months-long wait times in the Department of Veterans Affairs and patient appointment scheduling delays exceeding 24 days, telehealth’s impact on reducing wait times will be remarkable.
- Speaking of time, telehealth has the capacity to allow health providers to diagnose, treatment and manage existing health problems faster. This is achieved by using the joint intellect and skills of many health professionals to help one person. Every interaction and person working within a telehealth system acts a “auditor” to others, identifying overlooked ailments and symptoms. Meanwhile, automation in the system can identify public-health trends and epidemics within their preliminary stages, saving lives and millions of dollars in the process.
- Preventative medicine also reaps benefits of telehealth. Chronic health problems, like heart disease, obesity and diabetes, are responsible for 70 percent of American mortality rates. However, telehealth’s low cost and ease-of-use will allow more people to learn how to prevent these conditions, and for those already diagnosed, better and continued access to health care will decrease the mortality rates.
How Can People Use Telehealth?
Knowing the benefits of telehealth is only part of this game-changing technology. Next, you need to consider the ways in which people can use telehealth. The five, dominant uses of telehealth include the following:
Apps make up a major aspect of the telehealth market. Telehealth apps may be specific to certain practices or types of health care, or they may serve a catch-all for individuals with general-health problems. According to Healthline, the best telehealth apps answer immediate questions and provide video conferencing. More importantly, some apps may have an annual or monthly charge for an unlimited number of visits per patient. This means saving thousands in the course of copays and in-office visits. Obviously, some health organizations may have launched company-branded apps to serve existing patients.
Another way to use telehealth is not based solely on seeing a provider via the internet. Instead, it focuses on how patients use their health information, patient portals.
Patient portals give patients immediate, in-person access to their health records and can be used to ensure continuity of care when traveling or seeing other providers. Moreover, patient portals can help remind those with upcoming appointments and follow up with “discharge and care instructions” to ensure patients understand how to best care for themselves before, during and after seeing a provider.
Automated Medical Devices
Automated medical devices are considered part of telehealth too, especially if they send patient data to health providers. An example of health care facilities using electronic health records who have deployed telehealth through automated medical devices would include automatic reporting of vital signs from monitors in cardio-thoracic and intensive care units. In addition, some stethoscopes even allow doctors to listen to a patient’s heart or breathing through the internet while a nurse is using the stethoscope. This same technology can be used to monitor patients receiving care at home or in facilities without a trained, privileged specialist.
Comparable to automated devices, today’s wearable technologies also play a role telehealth. Wearable devices, like smartwatches and Fitbits, can be used to track patient data and identify possible health concerns before they result in a major health event. But, this technology is not limited to the wearables people use and pair with their smartphones. Wearable devices could monitor heart rhythms and act as a life-line when an emergency occurs.
Think of the popular “Life Alert” system. The system is an extension of emergency care by acting as the first responders when an elderly person falls or experiences a health emergency. Since the delay in accessing care is reduced, wearables will reshape how people access emergency health care and even manage chronic disease.
For example, electronic glucometers and implanted insulin pumps could be used to monitor and control blood sugar spikes in the elderly and those who have trouble remembering to take their blood sugar or administer insulin. These devices may also connect to larger systems, providing accurate, real-time information to health care professionals using the information to create a more accurate and ideal plan of care.
There is one benefit of telehealth that remains often forgotten, online training programs. Online programs, by definition, use learning through the internet to teach health care professionals. This may include renewing annual certifications, like our Online Basic Life Support (BLS) Certification.
In addition, online training may include live-person webinars with experienced instructors to teach core concepts, state- and federal-mandated training, like HIPAA, and new health care standards. This falls under the WHO’s definition of telehealth as it seeks to improve the quality and level of care and health in communities around the globe.
Telehealth is on course to alter the very fabric within the health care industry. While politics play out, telehealth will act as an immediate lifeline to organizations looking for ways to optimize and expand their resources, and it will bring life-saving health care to millions of underinsured or busy people.
Just think of how it could help a single parent get access to health care for a child, while juggling work and family responsibilities. Think of how telehealth could be used in areas of the world where in-person care is not accessible, bringing the world’s deadly outbreaks to their knees. These possibilities reflect only a fraction of the true power in telehealth, and as the internet becomes a fundamental part of society, telehealth will grow in tandem.
Only time will tell if telehealth becomes the new standard in health, but preparation and understanding of telehealth are keys to optimizing your organization’s readiness and ability to offer telehealth services.
For now, update your organization’s existing equipment and resources, including internet bandwidth. Work with insurance providers, and identify the key issues within your community. Most importantly, make sure your team’s credentials are updated and reflect the best practices in health care. This will empower your organization to be a true telehealth-leader in the 21st century.