In 2020, the telemedicine boom rushed into nearly every area of the health ecosystem. The collision of health tech and health tragedy pushed care outside the walls of providers and health systems and into the homes and remote offices of families and workers. Meeting face-to-face was reserved for the sickest of patients. Worksite clinics closed their doors. Telecare went from an underutilized innovative concept to an imperative path to care.
1. Multi-Tasked Care From Here to There
Telemedicine is now the lifeline for individuals and families who continue to be dogged by the pandemic. Overburdened parents – whether caring for their children, their elders, or a neighbor in need – can instantly tap into telemedicine any time day or night.
A 2017 Merritt Hawkins survey reported that it took an average of 24.1 days to get a doctor appointment in 15 large metro markets and 32 days in mid-sized markets. Respectively, that’s 30% and 33% more time than it took in 2014 with no signs of this trend reversing. Once in the waiting room, the average wait time to see the doctor was 18 minutes. Even more troubling, the average time at an urgent care was 15-60 minutes.
Added up, that’s a lot of worry, wait and fume time!
To the contrary, during the pandemic when demand for healthcare skyrocketed, it took less than 24 hours (an average of 75.5 minutes and as low as 1.5 minutes) to schedule and have a care visit via telemedicine.
At first glance, these wait times for telemedicine may seem long. However, given that the majority of these visits were via a smartphone or laptop computer, patients now have the luxury of multi-tasking while waiting to be seen or heard – or just heard. They can even request a call at a time that is more convenient for them.
2. Virtual Spaces Replace Waiting Room Faces
Which brings us to our second benefit of telemedicine. Unlike a physician or caregiver’s office, which often entails patients being poked, prodded, and asked to undress, telemedicine gives patients more control over their visit.
Patients can decide to be on video, send images, use SMS text, or simply visit via audio. They can also capture and share vitals gathered from their smartphone or remote monitoring devices. If comfortable, they can use live video to allow physicians to further examine physical symptoms.
Best of all, telemedicine allows patients to bring others from their care circle into the conversation. Whether sitting side-by-side or located miles apart, patients can conference-in their relatives, home caregivers, neighbors, and even other doctors and therapists to support them during and after their telemedicine visit. This coordinated care approach increases the likelihood that patients will follow through with their care plan to get and stay well.
3. Giving the Doctor a Ring can Result in Cha-Ching!
And finally, telemedicine saves patients money!
Jefferson Health, which implemented telehealth in 2015, reported their net cost savings to patients using telemedicine to be significant. Savings ranged from $309 to $1,500 for ER visits and $114 for other types of visits.
For their patients, the savings ranged from $19 to $121 per on demand visit.
Interestingly, both the health system and the patient saved the most money from avoiding (unnecessary) emergency room visits. Furthermore, patients saved on gas, parking, and in office or in hospital therapeutics (re $30 for an aspirin in the ER) and medical supplies (the average markup for medical supplies is $417 for every $100 of cost).
Time will tell if telemedicine – and similar forms of virtual and remote care – become the norm for engaging physicians and caregivers who help us get and stay well. Looking at other industries, including retail, banking, and travel that have made the shift from brick n mortar to digital, the odds are pretty good that the doctor will see wherever you may wander.
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