by Dean J. Tullis
When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit early in the spring, the use of telemedicine saw a spike as healthcare providers needed a quick way to continue seeing patients.
The Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization were urging physicians to utilize telemedicine, while the government eased regulations to make that more possible.
Now, several months later, but still in the middle of a pandemic, the use of telemedicine is on the decline. Reports show that decline started not long after use went up, as doctors quickly signed up and then started abandoning it.
It seems physicians are reluctant to continue using telemedicine – some say it’s too confusing and changes a doctor’s workflow, complaints that can quickly be resolved with some education.
In my experience, there’s no reason the same interaction between doctor and patient in person couldn’t take place via telehealth, especially for simple encounters such as routine check-ups or prescription refills. All you need is the right telemedicine solution.
Like everything new, telemedicine can be confusing until you figure out the right workflow for you in your practice or hospital. If implemented correctly, your telemedicine solution should not change your workflow and a scheduled appointment can remain the same as it does during an in-office visit – from checking in with the receptionist to seeing the doctor.
The right telemedicine solution will allow you to continue exchanging documents, filling-out forms with signatures and even taking co-pays from the patient, all before the visit starts. All of this maintains the same workflow that most physician offices use today, and the same can happen in hospitals and other facilities.
I’ve worked with physicians for more than 40 years and the one thing I have learned is that most doctors hate change. I give them credit because there’s been a lot of change in healthcare over the years and this is one change they really need to embrace, for their safety and for the benefit of the patient.
And the benefits of telemedicine for the patient are plenty.
Many patients today, especially the elderly or people with disabilities, have a difficult time finding transportation to and from the doctor for all their visits. On top of that, patients now have to worry about being in a waiting room full of sick people. Patients with compromised immune systems are already at a bigger risk for COVID-19 or even the seasonal flu. In fact, 40% of millennials said that a telemedicine option was “extremely or very important.” Numbering 83 million, millennials now comprise the largest segment of today’s workforce.
Telemedicine can also help those who are simply too busy or can’t afford to leave work for a doctor’s visit. A 15 to 20-minute remote visit can address their needs quickly and efficiently.
Besides benefitting patients, several other things can also make telemedicine user-friendly for the doctor’s office or hospital:
All are designed to make the transition between existing technologies and the telemedicine platform seamless.
One of the biggest problems I see with many telemedicine solutions today is video issues because the platform doesn’t work well in low bandwidth situations. The right telemedicine solution will solve any concerns about that. It will also allow you and your patient to use whatever device and browser you’d like instead of forcing you to use a specific browser and its latest version. Imagine the stress for both doctors and patients trying to get signed on only to find out they don’t have the right technology. All of that can be solved with a solution that’s both device and browser agnostic.
Some say the investment is an issue. I say, there are good telemedicine products available that are affordable, some for as little as $50 a month for unlimited use. Right now, there is confusion regarding payment and reimbursement from the government (Medicare and Medicaid at the state level) and private plans. Once those issues get decided on, I expect you’ll see more doctors embracing telemedicine as a long-term solution.
I believe that safety, convenience as well as accessibility will be the driving forces that keep telemedicine in the forefront, especially for physician practices that are forward-thinking. I also think that physicians and hospitals who don’t believe that telehealth is the future of medicine are making a big mistake. Patients have already started to demand telemedicine visits when appropriate, just for convenience. Eventually, doctors, private practices, and hospitals will have to utilize the new technology, so why not find a solution that’s easy to use, secure, affordable, and can allow you to create the workflow you want?