Telehealth, or ‘How to Ditch the Waiting Room’

The following is a guest blog post by Ryan Nelson, Director of Business Development for Medical Web Experts.

Navigating the doctor’s office for a non-emergency can feel like getting lost in a quagmire of lengthy routines. For those who choose to forego the experience for as long as possible, haphazardly browsing WebMD in the middle of the night is no better. This could all change soon.

Telemedicine is on the rise as health insurers and employers have become more willing to pay for online video consultations in recent years. Convenience (imagine not having to leave the comfort of your home for every service!) and positive health outcomes – not to mention significant cost savings for both employers and patients – are propelling online video consultations to the forefront of healthcare strategies.

People don’t like driving far, and they don’t like spending 45 minutes in a waiting room only to be discharged in under 15. The average wait time for a doctor’s appointment is 20 days in the US. This is more than enough time to deter patients from booking appointments for conditions that could be minor. Doctors usually don’t get reimbursed for time spent taking phone calls, so they often nix the medium altogether. Virtual doctor visits can fulfill patients’ need for instantaneous advice, closing a potentially dangerous communication gap while opening a new business opportunity for healthcare professionals.

A recent Harris Poll survey commissioned by Amwell found that around 40% of consumers would opt for video appointments for both antibiotics and birth control prescriptions, while at least 70% would rather have an online video visit to obtain a prescription than travel to their doctor’s office. Telehealth also offers a good solution for patients with mobility issues or chronic conditions, and it gives patients and doctors in rural or remote communities more options for receiving and dispensing care.

Health Outcomes
Biomed Central’s systematic review of telehealth service studies revealed that health outcomes for telehealth and in-person appointments are usually similar. About one-third of studies showed improved outcomes and only two indicated that telehealth was less effective. One way that online video appointments can improve health outcomes for the general population is to filter out minor health concerns and free up ER staff to deal with more serious ailments in-house. Additionally, video consultations can make it easier for physicians to track the recovery of discharged patients and to monitor patient adherence in a time-sensitive manner.

Cost Savings
The Amwell survey revealed that 64% of patients are willing to attend virtual appointments, challenging the dated assumption that in-person interactions tend to be perceived as a better experience. Contributing to this popularity is the fact that virtual appointments cost much less than an ER visit and are cheaper than an urgent care center or most face-to-face consults, generally figuring in around $40 to $50.

Biomed Central also found that out of 36 studies, nearly two-thirds showed cost savings for employers and patients. Meanwhile, Towers Watson predicted that the number of employers offering telemedicine will increase by 68% in 2015, which would result in $6B in employer savings.

Consumer Concerns
Consumers are concerned about how doctors can thoroughly examine patients through video, according to Amwell. However, the proliferation of self-monitoring mobile devices that can be used in conjunction with video consultations suggests that doctors may be able to get much of the information they need online. Besides, it can be argued that during most medical appointments a doctor doesn’t have much time to perform a comprehensive examination or truly get to know a patient.

Amwell subjects also questioned how a patient can be certain that he or she is speaking to a real doctor; however, this can easily be addressed by medical web platforms that thoroughly screen physicians and can thus provide adequate proof of their qualifications.

Digital Relationships
Research has shown that online video communication improves patient satisfaction and increases efficiency and access to healthcare for all demographics, at all times. While the medium appeals to people across all age groups, it especially appeals to younger, tech-savvy patients. This demographic tends to prefer instantaneous communication for non-emergencies and is generally comfortable communicating despite physical distance.

Consumers already use technology to communicate with their friends and families. Finally, doctors – another one of every person’s most intimate relationships – can join the ranks.

Towers Watson