The adoption of telehealth is accelerating like never before in the face of a virus that has no cure to-date. More and more patients and their healthcare providers are benefiting from digitally delivered medical services, and research shows that telehealth is set to grow even more into the future.
So how do healthcare professionals ensure they harness that growth to benefit their practice?
Growth of telehealth
The steady growth of telehealth over the past decade resulted mostly from the combination of three factors: the world’s aging population, the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, and expanded access to high-speed internet. However, it’s the COVID-19 pandemic that has seen the use of telehealth services accelerate exponentially in 2020.
According to the research firm Global Market Insights, the global telehealth market in 2019 was around US$45 billion and is expected to grow to more than US$175 billion by 2026. Another report put together by Fortune Business Insights predicts the global telehealth market to reach US$266 billion by 2026.
The telehealth market in the United States alone is projected to grow seven-fold by 2025 and result in a year-on-year increase of 64.4%, according to global market research firm Frost & Sullivan. Analysts at Forrester Research anticipate virtual healthcare interactions in the US to reach 1 billion by the end of 2020.
How is telehealth used?
There are many real-life examples of telehealth services making a marked difference all over the world.
Boston-based Partners HealthCare has successfully tested and put in place telemedicine and remote monitoring solutions. Its Center for Connected Health Cardiac Care Program has enrolled more than 1200 patients since 2006, reducing hospital heart failure admission rates by about 50%. Daily remote monitoring of weight, heart rate, pulse, and blood pressure allow better assessment of patient statuses and the ability of health professionals to provide care.
In the South Pacific, the small nation of Vanuatu started its first telehealth system in 2016 after the arrival of high-speed internet. It connects healthcare providers to patients and each other, in a country where a boat ride to a hospital can take between four to six hours. The network is government-supported and gives local nurses new learning opportunities by connecting them with physicians and specialists.
Healthcare providers in Alaska are treating sailors and fishermen at sea or in remote ports through a telehealth platform. Patients can also send images through a store-and-forward portal, which means they upload the images to a secure platform and then forward them on to be accessed by their physician.
Technology also helps commercial shipping crews around the world, which often go several weeks without visiting a port. Making an unscheduled port call due to a medical situation onboard is extremely costly. A study of 23,000 commercial ships sampled found that a fifth had been forced to divert from their courses due to medical reasons. However, the study also found that access to telemedical equipment onboard helped determine that 20% of their medical cases did not require the ship to divert, saving considerable time and money.
Telehealth has also proven to be crucial for maintaining regular care levels during natural disasters, when people may be out of reach of aid or unable to access medical care. A study of 2000 telehealth visits made during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017 showed a 50% increase for non-hurricane-related chronic conditions. In other words, people cut off by the hurricanes were replacing their normal visits with the remote option. Of those visits, 63% were by first-time telehealth users and 6% were using it for health advice, counseling, or a medication refill – double the normal rate.
Getting started with telehealth
To ensure your practice can benefit from telehealth, you should understand what the benefits are for healthcare providers. These include:
- expanding your potential patient base
- managing your existing patients more efficiently
- reducing no-shows
- reducing patient wait times
- reducing patient numbers in waiting rooms to facilitate physical distancing
- limiting the time and expense of traveling to other healthcare facilities and educational events
- reducing the overhead costs of running a practice
- giving your practice a competitive edge by offering something innovative for patients
Setting up your telehealth services properly from the beginning is key to reaping its benefits. Before you even start considering what technology you’ll need, first assess why you want to set up telehealth services to begin with. If you’re replacing direct patient consultations with a telehealth service primarily because you want to save money, as opposed to enabling better access to healthcare or reducing the travel required for the clients, you might need to reconsider whether telehealth is the best way for you to provide a service.
You also need to determine how much of your practice you want to dedicate to telehealth services. How much of your time are you willing to devote to providing services remotely? What portion of your patients would benefit from telehealth and equally as important, how many would be receptive to the change?
Research the technology. For all your options, consider how safe and secure they are. How effective are they for clinical use? How much do you need to invest in equipment, ongoing costs, and training your staff to use it? Will the technology be easy to use? Do you have access to broadband internet?
Choose a space for providing telehealth services that offers privacy and is clean. Consider where to place your cameras and microphones to ensure the best quality image and sound for your patients.
Know what regulations you need to abide by and where you might need to register your services. This will differ depending on your location, so it is a good idea to confirm with your local government health body.
In the following article, we’ll take a deeper look into telehealth’s specific equipment and security practices.
Once the equipment is installed and your team is trained, market your telehealth services. Send out a newsletter, post about it on your social media pages, update your website. Offer telehealth as an option when patients call to make an appointment and explain fully how the telehealth consultation will work.
Limitations and challenges
Despite all its benefits, telehealth is not without its limitations. Not only is it dependent on you being able to invest in the right technology and security protocols, but it can also involve a significant culture shift within your practice – one that not all your staff and stakeholders might be onboard with.
Some may not understand the value of investing in telehealth or they might simply be resistant to change. Reminding them of the benefits of telehealth, what your practice will gain from it, what the patients will gain, as well as having sound reasons as to why the practice is adopting telehealth services, can help.
Training your team will also be time-consuming and costly, but it is crucial to the success of your practice’s telehealth services so ensure you have the time and money to dedicate to it.
You may also have patients who are skeptical or worried about a lack of physician-to-patient contact resulting from remote healthcare delivery. Explain how the benefits of telehealth apply to them and, if possible, remind them that they still have the option of an in-person consultation.
Is your practice ready?
Setting up telehealth services is a big step for any practice, but you don’t need to go through it alone. Schedule a complimentary discovery session in which we gain an understanding of your practice, your stakeholders, and your unique IT needs. We will provide a concise report with actionable recommendations for setting up a successful telehealth option for your practice, as well as a timeline and price estimate if you decide to work with us.