The Benefits & Drawbacks of Telehealth For Patients
Valley Clinics has made it a priority to serve our patients in the settings that is most comfortable for them as long as we feel confident that we can provide the high level of relationship oriented service our practice is known for. One of our fastest growing services has been the utilization of telehealth visits for our patients who prefer it.
With Covid19, the health world had to adapt to the lockdown and still see and treat patients. However, during a pandemic, visiting a doctor’s office is likely the last place you’d want to go. This allowed for the massive growth in telehealth services which allowed doctors to continue seeing patients from the comfort and safety of their own homes. Even well before the pandemic, cisco did a study where 74 percent of people were open to telehealth. Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages to telehealth, and we’ll go over those here.
Advantages to telehealth
1. Convenience - For a large portion of doctor's visits, there really isn’t a need to sit in the doctor’s office to discuss the same things you’d discuss over telehealth. This is especially true in the psychiatric field and especially benefits patients with mental conditions that may prevent them from leaving their house. Disorders such as agoraphobia have been increasing over time, and it’s estimated that 2% of adults teens suffer from it. Covid19 has stimulated that growth even further as more people are growing fears of leaving their homes. Without telehealth, seeking treatment used to be an impossible task unless you found a doctor willing to make house calls.
2. Cost-Effectiveness – Remote doctor visits, analysis, and monitoring services can significantly reduce the cost of health care which saves money for the patient, doctor, and insurance companies. It can also reduce the amount of unnecessary non-urgent Emergency Room visits with further increase the savings and also free up hospital resources for patients seeking emergency treatment. The American Hospital Association has reported that telehealth programs saved as much as 11% in costs and have tripled the ROI for investors.
3. Access to Specialists – One thing often overlooked when it comes to visiting a doctor is that referrals to specialists can often result in reduced care as the hassle of visiting a specialist can discourage a patient from seeking further treatment for their issue. In rural areas, there are only 43 specialists per 100,000 population compared to 53.3 per 100,000 in urban areas. Telehealth allows some patients to still see specialists for their health issues. While some issues may not be possible for entire telehealth visits, it still reduces the number of trips someone would have to take if it’s something small like a follow-up visit.
4. Better Patient Care – Anyone who has had experiences with the doctor’s office understands the entire process. You typically wait in a waiting room, brought into a smaller waiting room, and then you see the doctor for a few minutes before they’re rushing off to the next patient. That’s often discouraging enough to make people not want to visit their doctor for non-essential issues that could lead to larger health problems down the line. With telehealth, patients are more encouraged to have visits they wouldn’t otherwise because they typically wait in the comfort of their own home for a phone/video call when the doctor is ready. Patients have been reported to score lower for anxiety and depression and have 38% fewer hospital visits according to a study by the AJMC.
While telehealth may seem all positives, there are indeed disadvantages to this as we’ll discuss below.
Disadvantages to Telehealth
1. Training and Some Increased Costs. In order to have a functioning telehealth program, doctor’s offices will typically need to hire IT professionals to set up and train users on the program in addition to the added costs of equipment. There are examples of places monitoring up to 33 patients at once from a single location which is certainly an advantage, but the up-front expenses can be costly for smaller practices.
2. Patients will still need in-person care. While psychiatric patients can largely rely on telehealth for a majority of issues, medical patients will still need in-person care. There are many things a doctor cannot check over a Zoom call, especially when patients discover mysterious lumps and other issues that need physical contact. This becomes a problem because the doctor’s office will still need a physical location for patients to visit which does not allow for much of a reduction in things like administration costs.
3. Insurance Claims. This disadvantage will likely continue to be solved the longer we do telehealth, but as Covid19 spread, so did the explosion of telehealth visits. This results in insurance companies scrambling to update their systems to accommodate things that normally wouldn’t have covered prior to the pandemic. Of course, this leads to many administration errors and frustrated patients receiving large bills they shouldn’t have received.
Telehealth was a program underdoing stable growth up until 2020 when it exploded in usage and popularity. As the pandemic slows, doctors still prefer in-office visits, however, the use of telehealth is likely to become a normal part of the health care process moving beyond Covid19. Many doctors will prefer reverting back to in-office appointments, but this is a booming trend that isn’t going away any time soon.