These days, healthcare providers are looking for ways to increase patient engagement. Many forward-thinking organizations are finding that telemedicine offers a versatile tool for building meaningful relationships with patients and their families while reducing the cost of delivering care. If your organization is evaluating the role of telemedicine in your strategic initiatives, consider the following ways in which telemedicine can help build stronger relationships with patients—and healthier patients, too.
1. Improved access to care in underserved areas
The Health Resources and Services Administration has identified 15,000 Healthcare Professional Shortage Areas across the country. This includes primary care, mental health, and dental health. Taking mental health as an example, an estimated 80 million people live in areas without enough mental health providers. Using telemedicine allows patients and providers to connect virtually by eliminating onerous requirements such as travel and taking time off work.
2. Increased patient convenience and compliance
A patient who can see a provider and follow a suggested plan without a significant burden is a patient who is more likely to comply with recommendations. For instance, eliminating costly travel expenses and personal burdens through the use of telemedicine translates into fewer missed appointments and better compliance; these, in turn, reduce the readmission risk and improve care outcomes. In a less extreme scenario, simply cutting the need to miss time off work or find last-minute child care arrangements can make a huge difference for employees and parents. By acknowledging and resolving these common issues, providers can show that they listen and respond to their patients in all aspects, not just medical concerns.
3. Lower care delivery costs
Telemedicine can offer patients dual therapy within one care setting or at a more economical step-down care setting. Consider patients with a neurological movement disorder; many have coexisting mental health conditions as well that, if left untreated, can adversely affect medical interventions applied to the movement disorder. Providing mental health services via telemedicine can target both conditions at the same time, negating the need for two separate appointments and reducing the risk of complications.
Similarly, recently discharged patients may be unable to travel during the recovery period. Telemedicine permits certain services, such as speech therapy, to be delivered directly to the patient’s home. Case managers can also follow up with their patients virtually to encourage compliance with a treatment plan, monitor status, and prevent readmissions.
When the cost and time required to deliver quality care are reduced, providers can focus more fully on the patient and even visit with more patients.
4. Smoother handoffs between providers for care transitions
Instead of giving a patient a business card and a referral to a specialist or therapist, providers can host a virtual meeting to introduce the patient and specialist immediately, thus forming the building blocks for an invested relationship between the two parties. With the awkward “getting to know you” stage already over, patients are more likely to follow through with an appointment with that specialist. Warmer patient handoffs also tend to increase patient satisfaction and reduce readmission risk.
In addition, telemedicine allows providers to access specialists around the globe during local off hours, resulting in 24-hour coverage. This enhances the quality of care by helping providers make more informed decisions.
Although telemedicine technology has been around for a while, expanding reimbursement models are spurring even more growth; the industry is still in its infancy. For enterprising healthcare organizations, that means that the best time to implement a telemedicine program is now.