Why should healthcare organizations care about telehealth?
Telehealth access systems and virtual care, thanks to emerging technologies, have seen an explosive rise in popularity in the last few years. The healthcare industry is undergoing an exciting transformation—and your organization shouldn't miss out.
When most people think "telehealth," they think video visits. But leading telehealth technology is much more than that. Cutting-edge platforms optimize patient access across a variety of channels: appointment scheduling, patient-provider communication, telephone triage, symptom screening, and more.
The benefits of embracing these new technologies are immense:
- Streamlined access to care, enhanced patient loyalty, and better patient outcomes.
- Treatment of underserved patients, such as those living in rural areas.
- Less stress on patients with chronic medical conditions.
- Reduced strain on medical professionals at call centers.
- Alleviated staffing pressure at healthcare organizations, because telehealth software automates many time-consuming and personnel-heavy tasks.
Most importantly: Patients love remote access. According to 2022's State of Telemedicine Survey, 92% of patients said new telehealth technology has made it easier to manage their health affairs. They aren't burdened with leaving their home, nor waiting on hold, nor playing phone tag. They get access to the care they need exactly when they need it.
How healthcare organizations can enhance patient access with cutting-edge telehealth systems
It's important to first define "telehealth" and "telemedicine." Telemedicine describes remote clinical treatment and remote patient-provider interactions. Virtual visits are an example of telemedicine.
Telehealth describes all of remote health: appointment scheduling, patient engagement, healthcare campaigns, queue management, call center business intelligence, and more.
These telehealth services streamline access to care and improve health outcomes. Medical organizations should make every effort to incorporate as many of these features into their platform as possible. The more comprehensive your telehealth platform, the more it will help your patients and your staff.
Telehealth is not without flaws—like everything in life, there are advantages and disadvantages. The pros, however, generally far outweigh the cons. Telehealth continues to advance every single day as technology and Artificial Intelligence are refined.
Telehealth pros & cons
Pro: Leveling of the industry's playing field
Among the most exciting benefits of telehealth is a leveling of the playing field between smaller practices and the industry behemoths. Telehealth software empowers less-established organizations to give their patients a modern access experience for relatively little cost. I explore this phenomena in deeper detail in my blog: "How Clinical AI Answers Healthcare Call Center Staffing Shortages."
Pro: Reduced costs for patients & healthcare organizations
Telemedicine services are less expensive than onsite care: The average cost of a virtual appointment is $40 - $50, which is four times less than a typical in-person appointment.
Sophisticated telehealth access systems, such as AI-assisted telephone triage, lower the per capita cost of healthcare by reducing expensive and unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Patients can almost always get the care they need by talking with a nurse over the phone. Quality assurance monitoring of triage phone calls demonstrates that, in 97% of encounters, telephone nurses directed patients to the correct level of care.
AI-powered telehealth software also reduces costs for healthcare organizations by lowering their operating and staffing expenses. Telehealth software automates many resource-draining and personnel-heavy tasks, which ensures 100% operational efficiency and relieves significant staffing pressure.
The most obvious benefit of telehealth is convenience. Telehealth empowers patients to access healthcare services while sitting on their couch, working at their desk, walking their dog. This convenience means patients get the care they need when they need it. They aren't burdened with jumping through hoops just to schedule an appointment or speak with a nurse. A study from the Commonwealth Fund found that difficulties accessing care is patients' primary pain point in regards to their health affairs.
Convenience isn't just good for your patients; it's also good for your staff. Telehealth software organizes and consolidates patient and provider data, which means your staff members, during their phone calls with patients, aren't forced to furiously navigate different systems and databases to find relevant information. This eliminates workflow inefficiencies, which in turn reduces handle times and hold times.
Pro: Fewer cancellations & no-shows
Telehealth software automatically sends patients appointment reminders and rescheduling links via SMS and email, and this reduces no-shows and cancellations. Patients are more likely to remember their appointment if they are sent reminders beforehand.
Pro: Healthcare providers can reach a wider swath of patients
Organizations that build holistic access systems can reach and serve more patients. They can conduct online marketing campaigns, and they can boost their exposure in search results to drive patient acquisition.
If the platform offers self-scheduling, this also attracts new patients, who love the convenience of scheduling their own appointments online. 80% of patients prefer a healthcare provider who offers self-scheduling, according to HealthGrades.
If the telehealth platform offers virtual visits, then healthcare providers aren't limited to only serving local patients, which improves care equity. Typical health services favor patients who live in expensive urban areas.
Pro: Time Savings
Running a strong teleheath operation doesn't just save money; it also saves time. Patient access staff equipped with AI-software can perform their jobs with speed and dynamism. Training takes less time because simple workflows are easy to learn.
Pro: Optimized communications & data management
A major advantage of telehealth software is that it automatically collects data from patient encounters. This data can then be used to improve your organization's communication system.
With features like secure instant messaging, patients and providers can easily communicate and stay on top of health issues as they arise. Many patients prefer to ask questions via digital messaging rather than by phone, so this feature strengthens the patient-provider relationship and can improve patient outcomes.
Con: Legislative barriers
The government remains somewhat wary of telehealth. In many states, there are strict laws limiting its use. Legislators have valid concerns around privacy and safety, but in order for telehealth to thrive, these restrictions must be loosened or eliminated, because they are shackling the industry.
Reimbursement has proved an obstacle to telehealth. Medicare only reimburses for certain types of telehealth services, and Medicaid varies by state. Many private insurance companies do not cover telehealth services at all. For remote health to become truly obliquitous, reimbursement procedures must be reworked.
Con: Legal issues
Some health care providers are concerned about potential liabilities. Remote care comes with a higher risk of malpractice accusations. Healthcare organizations can alleviate this risk by investing in telehealth software that has built-in HIPAA compliance and other safety mechanisms.
Telehealth is the future of healthcare. Improving patient access is good for patients, good for your organization, and good for the American health system. We must all do our part to push patient access into the future.
To learn more about how technology is transforming healthcare, check out my blog: “How Providers Can Win Big From Healthcare Consumerism Trends.”