Healthcare News & Insights

Why telemedicine is critical for hospitals

More providers and payors are increasing their reliance on telemedicine services as a way to save time and money, and make life easier for patients and providers. If your hospital isn’t moving toward telehealth, it may want to consider it.

Telemedicine is quickly becoming an essential part of the healthcare industry, with large networks like Kaiser Permanente seeing increases in virtual visits.

According to Fierce Healthcare, 52% of Kaiser Permanente members’ 100 million encounters with doctors each year are virtual. Kaiser includes secure messaging, phone calls, patient portals and real-time video visits in its definition of telemedicine.

Benefits for patients

The benefits of telemedicine are numerous for patients, from shorter wait times to significant cost savings.

Improved access to care is one of the most notable perks of using telemedicine for patients. Whether it’s due to geographic location, a lack of transportation, poor physical condition, psychological issues or other reasons, some people simply can’t or don’t want to visit a hospital or doctor’s office in person. Telemedicine services can help those patients get the care they need.

Patients who live in rural areas or communities with limited resources can see doctors more quickly via telehealth services, and people with chronic conditions are able to have regular follow-ups with their doctors over the phone or via video call, rather than having to go to the hospital for more extensive treatment.

“Video visits have certainly improved our ability to reach homebound patients and patients with mobility or transportation challenges,” said Angie Stevens, the executive director of telehealth IT for Kaiser.

In addition, telemedicine diverts patients with minor issues and illnesses from urgent care clinics and emergency departments. That way, critically ill patients can be seen more quickly. This reduces wait times and ensures patients are getting the right care in the right setting.

But it’s not just patients who benefit from telemedicine.

Hospital rewards

Physicians and hospitals can also reap rewards from this new technology.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care in 2015, implementing a behavioral telehealth management program for patients with cardiac conditions:

  • had a positive impact on their care
  • reduced the number of admissions and readmissions, and
  • lowered treatment costs. 

In addition, telemedicine can be used to support providers in smaller hospitals and practices through specialized clinical programs.

Example: The University of Maryland Medical System offers various telehealth programs to hospitals in the area, including telestroke, telecardiology, emergency pediatric care, maternal fetal medicine consultations and high-risk pregnancy management, acute mental health, pediatric organ transplant evaluations and rehabilitation of spinal cord patients.

Using telehealth technology can increase care efficiency, allowing a provider to see five or six patients in an hour.

And telemedicine options may draw new patients to a facility. The Telehealth Index: 2017 Consumer Survey from American Well found 20% of patients would switch primary care providers if another provider offered telehealth visits.

“Consumers are clearly interested in more convenient access to healthcare – and increasingly, they are even willing to switch providers to get internet video service,” said Mary Modahl, American Well’s chief marketing officer. “Not only that, but consumers are willing to try telehealth for many needs – from chronic conditions to post-discharge follow up.”

Insurance coverage

Patients are interested in telehealth services for all of their healthcare needs, and more insurers (including Medicaid) have been expanding coverage for telemedicine visits.

According to the American Academy of Professional Coders, for Medicare reimbursement, the telehealth service must be furnished:

  • via an interactive telecommunications tool
  • by a physician or other authorized provider, and
  • to an eligible telehealth site.

Telemedicine is already revolutionizing patient care and increasing hospitals’ ability to provide excellent care while saving money.

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