A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that telemedicine is primed to revolutionize healthcare. But, before we hop on board, it’s important to examine the ways in which telehealth will disrupt healthcare delivery.
When asked why physicians go into medicine, most will tell you it is for the patients. The patient- physician relationship has been the cornerstone of modern medicine for decades. Yet a host of administrative, marketplace and regulatory developments – innumerable quality metrics reporting requirements; millions of new patients introduced under the ACA; declining reimbursement; rapid consolidation among hospitals and health systems; ICD-10 implementation; and prior authorization challenges – have impacted the amount of time physicians are able to spend with their patients. In fact, according to a 2014 Physicians Foundation’s survey, physicians indicated that 20 percent of their time is spent on non-clinical paperwork.
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Telemedicine: Pros & Cons
Given the broader implications associated with access to care, what alternatives are now in place to ensure patients are able to access care from their physicians? Enter telemedicine. While telemedicine is not a new development, technological advances have made it far more ubiquitous. The advantages of telemedicine are abundant, as noted in a recent Healthline article:
- Provides access to specialists and information that are not always readily available
- Offers opportunities for patients to ask questions and share their medical history, similar to regular in-person visits
- Gives physicians the ability to observe first-hand physical symptoms and provide appropriate treatment options. This potentially saves a lot of time and resources if patients need to travel far to get to an urgent care center or emergency room
- Insurance companies are increasingly covering telemedicine services under health plans, as noted in a recent Boston Business Journal story, where Harvard Pilgrim Health Care is the latest insurer to now cover telehealth
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Some have also noted the following disadvantages associated with telemedicine:
- Some patients may not have access to the technology for telemedicine. For already cash-strapped physician practices, the equipment can also be costly to install and maintain
- Telemedicine can lack the personalized feel of in-person visits and may not be the best option for certain types of patients
So What’s the Answer?
Well, it’s complicated. The reality is that as the U.S. population continues to age, millions of new patients will continue to seek healthcare services, and physician shortages across the country will become more pervasive. In fact, according to a recent study published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, by 2025, demand for physicians will exceed supply by a range of 46,000 to 90,000.
Telemedicine offers fairly convenient, efficient and cost-effective alternatives for patients that do not have close access to medical services. Most would agree that telemedicine will never replace the intimacy and personalized feel of spending time with one’s doctor. Yet as the U.S. and, more broadly, the global healthcare system undergo significant changes and increasing complexity, patients and physicians, alike, will need to evolve and adapt.
As PR practitioners working in healthcare PR, it is incumbent upon us to help educate the public on these developments in a forthcoming, credible and objective manner. Moreover, telemedicine providers need to be mindful of how these new services are messaged to an array of patient populations, particularly to older generations more accustomed to face-to-face medical visits. Underscoring the personalized aspects of telemedicine services, coupled with understanding the cost and convenience advantages, will help to better differentiate and strengthen telemedicine companies in a crowded marketplace.
Matt Panichas is an account supervisor with PAN Communications, an award-winning integrated communications firm located in Boston, MA.