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Why Patients Want Telehealth – And How Providers Can Benefit From It

A recent study reveals how patients feel about telehealth. More than 50 million U.S. consumers are willing to switch to a provider that offers telehealth services. Notably, patients want telehealth for a broad scope of issues ranging from minor tasks like getting prescription refills to managing chronic conditions and as an alternative to late-night ER visits.

65% of consumers want their primary care physician to offer telehealth video calls, not emails, or phone calls. Notably, most patients do not wish to switch a PCP because they trust their physician, but 20% are willing to make the switch to get the service.

According to 2017 Consumer Telehealth Index [pdf], 67% of adult patients delay visits to doctors. The reasons are obvious – high costs of care and, most importantly, long time it takes to see a doctor or nurse. For most U.S. consumers living in a city, it takes 18.4 days on average from the day they make an appointment to the day they visit a doctor. Once in the office, the visit takes 120 minutes on average – 100 to get in, 20 to talk to the doctor.

Having trouble to squeeze the visit into a busy schedule, or hoping the problem would go away on its own contribute to the list of reasons Americans are reluctant to see a doctor.

The patients delay seeking care for serious health issues, not just minor ones. A third of delayed visits accounts for serious conditions that could have cost the payer and the provider significantly less had the initial visit to the doctor been timely. Late diagnosis translates into aggravated conditions and more expensive treatment.

Delayed visits for routine checks and minor issues – preventative exams, flu shots – can lead to equally serious ramifications.

Time, Location, and Cost Benefits of Telehealth

With the waiting time and the tediousness of getting a brick and mortar appointment with the doctor, consumers value the time-saving advantages of telehealth. The survey estimates that when using telehealth video conferences with their physicians, patients spend an average of 5 minutes waiting, and 8-10 minutes “seeing” the doctor.

The great convenience of being able to have a video conference with a doctor from home, office or while traveling has significant cost savings for the payers. Increasingly more health plans now cover telehealth at a lower cost than a typical visit to the doctor.

Interestingly, the U.S. adults report their concerns were resolved completely in 64% of in-office visits to the doctor, and in 85% of telehealth video calls. A separate study found repeat visits for the same conditions within two weeks were lower for telehealth than for office visits.

Areas Where Consumers Want Telehealth

Emergency Rooms. 20% of Americans are willing to have a video call as an alternative to the late-night ER visits. The Houston Fire Department’s ETHAN program is a telling example of how telehealth averts low-acuity ER visits, ambulance rides, and makes the work of ambulance teams more productive and fast.

Traditionally, ER is a place with long waiting lines, and high costs, for both provider and payer. ERs, on the other hand, are highly overloaded, which does not help increase productivity or reduce staff burnout.

Telehealth is a lower cost alternative to an ER visit. Timely video calls help avert low-acuity ER visits, decreasing the pressure on the emergency care facilities, and the cost of care for the provider and the patient.

Follow-up visits. With preventable readmissions being a pressing financial concern for the providers, reducing the readmission rate is critical. 52% of patients want to use video conferences with their doctors for post-discharge follow-up visits.

Telehealth helps doctors achieve a greater level of control over the post-discharge care, give timely reminders and identify serious symptoms on time. Likewise, patients are less stressed physically during a video call than a visit to the office. Patients enjoy greater control over their treatment and are more likely to adhere to recommendations than with the office visits.

Chronic conditions. 60% of adult Americans want to have regular video conferences with their physicians to help them manage a chronic condition. Chronic conditions’ cost is high for the provider and the payer. So, telehealth solutions for such chronic conditions as diabetes and hypertension make care more accessible for the patients.

Getting a prescription refill is particularly tedious. So, most patients want their PCP to be available for a video call to get their prescription refilled. Half of female respondents are willing to have routine birth control-related visits via video calls.

79% of respondents who care for an elderly relative would like to be able to participate in the video conferences with the doctor. They expressed the need to be more informed and involved in the treatment. The group conferences doctor-patient-caregiver have a great potential to improve outcomes.

What This Means for Providers

One of the key takeaways from HIMSS17 was the urgent need for a patient-centric approach. As patients get more choices, they will inevitably switch to providers and care plans that offer more for less money. Telehealth allows patients achieve that goal – get an accessible care in a convenient format for the same or lower cost.

Doctors, on the other hand, want telehealth because it lifts the burden. ER units are more focused on acute patients, with the rest diverted via telehealth. Physicians service more patients in less time with video calls rather than office visits.

Combine that with the ability to complete EHR documentation instantly, during the video visit, sign prescriptions, view medical images, and get live updates from remote patient monitoring devices. That way, a doctor minimizes the time spent on the EHR documentation after work (2-3 hours of uncompensated time daily).

The benefits of telehealth for minimizing preventable readmissions and improving outcomes are significant. As much as in-room infotainment systems, telehealth solutions offer many user-friendly formats for educational material.

Now that providers see the wisdom in investing in telehealth, it is vital to screen solutions carefully.

Providers are responsible for electronic patient health information (ePHI) privacy and security. They need to control the flow of confidential data to and from their systems. Therefore, advanced authentication and remote administration are a must. Windows medical tablets have a biometric reader, CAC/Smart Card, and RFID Imprivata SSO. Add in the Windows native authentication mechanism, end-to-end encryption for incoming and outgoing data, and you get a compliant and secure solution.

Bring Your Own Device is not the best fit for the task. A fleet of disparate operating systems, rooted Android and jailbroken iPhone devices, poor cyber security awareness, bad browsing and downloading habits mean there is very little a provider can do to protect ePHI.

The providers need a reliable solution with minimum investment and maximum output. Windows medical tablets offer high ROI. Most programs are designed for Windows primarily, so you don’t need to cripple a desktop program to squeeze it into a mobile operating system.

Windows medical tablets have legacy ports, USB mini and regular ports, and allow encrypting data on external drives. They can run EHR. Resources of a Windows medical tablet are far superior to those of a typical BYOD device. Multitasking and viewing medical images is a breeze with Intel 5th-gen Intel processors.

Add in full-shift uptime with durable batteries, or hot-swap batteries, MIL-STD components, antimicrobial coating, barcode reader and full disk imaging, and you get a durable powerhouse that lasts for years.

Despite the seemingly low initial cost of BYOD, the total cost grows exponentially when you need to deploy mobile-dependent healthcare solutions. Only medical grade tablets are capable of powering your clinical needs, providing the security, resources, and usability required by your staff.

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