Telehealth is essentially using two-way electronic communication such as video conferencing, streaming, wireless communications, and image forwarding to provide long-distance healthcare services. Telehealth was rapidly rising in popularity even before Covid-19, and it’s now becoming the preferred option when possible to effectively treat patients and protect them and healthcare providers during the pandemic. Telehealth can be done via live communication methods, using “store and forward” technology where messages and images are sent and interpreted later, or via remote patient monitoring.
Telemedicine started becoming more popular in the U.S. following the Affordable Care Act. Since health care providers are now reimbursed based more on positive patient outcomes, they’re even more motivated to ensure patients stay healthy. A Foley and Lardner study found that 90% of healthcare executives consider the development of telehealth services to be important to their organizations. Here are some of the main advantages and disadvantages of telemedicine.
Convenience: Naturally, one of the greatest benefits of telehealth is that it offers easy access to healthcare services compared to in-person visits. This is especially important for those who live in rural areas away from providers or those who need to stay at home during the pandemic. Greater accessibility also makes it easier for those with conditions that keep them homebound to receive care. Telemedicine also helps eliminate wait times spent on in-person visits, not to mention the time wasted driving to a physician and back.
Low Risk: Telemedicine is also a great low-risk alternative to a traditional doctor visit. Patients can receive urgent care without risking additional exposure in an office, and they can be assessed for conditions that may require a specialist. Remote assessment options can even let healthcare providers stay updated on patients with chronic conditions and let patients conduct their follow-up appointments after surgery at home without risking injury while traveling.
Cost-Effectiveness: Remote analysis can also save money by reducing costs for healthcare services, which is great for providers and patients alike. A great example is a Pennsylvania telemonitoring program for heart failure that saved 11% of costs than previous methods and tripled ROI. Easy access to health services also helps cut down on non-urgent visits to the emergency room and ambulance rides, which can get extremely expensive.
Health Coverage: These days, telehealth is typically covered by private health insurance plans. With Medicare, services will be covered, but you’ll pay 20% of costs, and you’ll be responsible for the Part B deductible. For many, this means using Medicare for telehealth costs about the same as visiting in person. Certain services, such as remote monitoring, are also covered by Medicaid.
If you’re using private health insurance, the amount you pay will depend on your health plan. Healthcare providers can now use telehealth to treat Covid-19, and some are reducing or outright waiving fees associated with telehealth for the virus. Compare health insurance coverage with iSelect to find a plan that works for you with the lowest premiums.
Technological Barriers: Perhaps the most obvious disadvantage of telemedicine is that it requires both providers and patients to have the necessary technology and a good broadband internet connection. This may be difficult for patients living in rural areas who don’t have access to fast internet speeds or unfamiliar with the necessary technology.
Additional Training: There is a cost of entry for telemedicine, and purchasing equipment may be expensive for many providers. They also have to spend additional time and money training staff to use it properly. Once everything is set up, telemedicine may reduce the need for staff, which could lead to layoffs.
Care Continuity: While you may be able to set up an appointment with your preferred provider through telehealth, some programs may simply connect you to whoever is available. This could mean you’re seeing a different doctor each time, and they may not always have all the notes for your case. This could reduce the quality of care you receive.
While telehealth overall has many benefits and will be convenient for plenty of patients, it isn’t a perfect solution, and advancements still need to be made.