Telehealth software solutions have surged in popularity due to the ongoing pandemic.
According to J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Telehealth Satisfaction Survey, telehealth use by healthcare consumers (i.e., patients) jumped from 7 percent in 2019 and 9 percent in 2020 to 36 percent in 2021.
That means more than a third of patients in the United States used telehealth in 2021.
In a similar survey by Software Advice, 84 percent of patients said they would choose a medical provider who offers telehealth over one who doesn’t provide it when selecting a new doctor.
The added convenience and safety that telehealth offers make it very attractive to patients and physicians.
Telemedicine also gives medical practices that depend on Medicare reimbursements a big boost toward improving patient experiences, enabling them to meet their value-based care goals.
As a result, the role of information technology in healthcare keeps steadily increasing. This growth is good news for healthcare software development companies.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is any technology that allows patients to receive healthcare without visiting a doctor’s office.
Telehealth is also referred to as telemedicine, telecare, virtual care, and remote healthcare. Depending on who you ask, each term means something different.
Regardless of the terminology used, the core of telehealth is the technology that allows healthcare providers and patients to communicate securely over distance.
Benefits of Telehealth for Patients
Patients like telehealth because it saves them time. It’s easier. And it reduces their exposure to other sick patients. They can talk to their doctor from home, work, or wherever they happen to be. But arguably, the most significant benefit is that telehealth results in healthier patient outcomes.
Nothing takes a chunk out of a busy schedule like visiting the doctor. Patients can end up sitting in the waiting room for hours—on top of the time it takes them to travel to and from the healthcare provider’s office.
Telehealth reduces patient wait times and eliminates the need to travel. And if a patient has symptoms that can be accurately diagnosed remotely (a rash or a sore throat, for example), they get care faster and can start treatment sooner. If starting on a medication that needs monitoring (like most ADHD medications, for example), they can report their results via a website or an app.
No one wants to go to the doctor for a minor illness and come home with COVID-19. It is the reason that thousands of healthcare providers’ offices closed temporarily in 2020 to stop the spread of the virus. Even though clinics have since reopened, many people hesitate to visit the doctor in person for fear of exposure.
Telehealth allows patients to get the care they need without the risk of contracting a new illness and spreading it to their loved ones and co-workers.
Comfort and Privacy
Telehealth allows patients to get care for non-emergency conditions from the comfort and privacy of their own homes. They can meet a physician through video chat or have their health condition remotely monitored.
Telehealth particularly benefits disabled patients who might find it difficult to travel to a clinic. It eliminates the physical and emotional strain these patients must endure to see a healthcare provider in person.
Telemedicine also offers the ultimate privacy. Patients with sensitive conditions don’t have to worry about being seen entering or leaving a specialist’s office.
Because patients can see their physician more easily, they are more likely to visit at the onset of symptoms rather than waiting to see if it “gets better on its own.” They’re also more communicative with their healthcare provider. This increased level of health monitoring leads to greater doctor-patient engagement, better adherence to prescribed medications, and improved management of chronic conditions.
Telehealth Benefits for Physicians
Like patients, doctors also benefit from not being exposed to contagious illnesses and greater patient engagement. But that’s not all. Physicians also gain other benefits from telemedicine, such as increased revenue, fewer cancellations, happier staff, and the ability to work remotely.
Telehealth can increase healthcare revenue in a few ways. First, virtual patient visits are more productive and take less time than in-office visits. As a result, physicians can see more patients per day. More patients, more income.
Secondly, telemedicine can help increase revenue sources by turning free services into reimbursable options. For example, instead of having a nurse call with test results, the healthcare provider can schedule a follow-up virtual visit to discuss the results and answer questions that they can then charge for. The patient benefits from a greater interpretation of the results and the ability to ask follow-up questions. Surgeons can monitor post-procedure health similarly.
And telehealth isn’t just video chats. Some telehealth solutions meet federal quality care standards, allowing clinics to get reimbursed for meeting those measures. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) provided detailed guidance for 39 electronic clinical quality measures (eCQMs) for the 2022 performance period.
Reduced exposure to COVID, flu and other contagious illnesses benefits healthcare providers as much as their patients. COVID’s continued spread alone puts physicians, nurses, and office staff at risk daily. Clinics and hospitals are operating above capacity. Losing a team member to illness increases the already incredible strain on these facilities and staff.
Reduced exposure also helps slow the spread of COVID and other illnesses. With the omicron variant’s infection rate higher than any previous COVID variant, slowing the spread allows hospitals and clinics to provide better care.
Before the advent of telemedicine, physicians were limited to seeing patients in the office during set hours. Telehealth allows healthcare providers to see patients from anywhere and at any time. Physicians can perform virtual visits on their days off or during their on-call hours without being in the office.
This flexibility allows healthcare workers to take a break from a constant stream of patients, breathe, pet the cat, and generally de-stress for a few minutes. These breaks, coupled with a more comfortable environment, helps fight the “churn and burn” feeling many doctors experience.
Better Patient Engagement
Providers can achieve better patient engagement through telehealth solutions. As previously mentioned, virtual visits encourage patients to contact their healthcare provider earlier and more frequently rather than waiting until their condition gets worse.
Beyond virtual visits, a range of telehealth solutions can aid in chronic disease management, medication adherence, monitoring health conditions, and following treatment procedures. Telehealth solutions can also offer an additional level of caregiver support.
When patients miss their appointments, it’s a financial loss for the healthcare provider. For a clinic that sees 20 patients a day, a 10 percent no-show rate means two missed appointments a day. With the average income for a patient visit across all specialties being $200, that’s about $400 a day in lost revenue for a single provider. Over $100,000 a year. Ouch.
Many patients find virtual visits more convenient. They’re less likely to skip the visit when all they have to do is tap on an app on their smartphone or laptop.
One pediatric telehealth initiative reduced no-show rates from 36 percent to as low as 7.9 percent over ten months. In addition, parents said the telehealth solution improved access to care, saved time, and was simple to use.
Types of Telehealth Solutions
Although we’ve focused mainly on virtual visits, telehealth encompasses many other applications and uses. Here are a few other examples.
Online Pharmacy Services: Pharmacy management solutions offer patients the ability to order and refill prescriptions online. They can also have virtual consultations with a pharmacist and get more information about the medication they’re taking.
Chronic Conditions Management: Using electronic medical record (EMR) devices, the patients can transmit the vital information on their pulse, heartbeat, glucose levels directly to healthcare providers. In turn, they can analyze this data and see when life signs aren’t typical and alert patients in case of an emergency.
Concussion Recovery: Physical therapists and orthopedists can use concussion recovery solutions to capture and analyze a patient’s physical and psychological performance based on values input into a computer-based simulation system.
Remote Patient Monitoring: With telehealth solutions, care staff can monitor vital statistics such as blood pressure, pulse, weight, glucose, and temperature. If the patient data deviates from normal, the system alerts the remote care staff.
Medication Monitoring: Medical institutions use telehealth applications to monitor medication use and efficacy in adults and children.
Mental Health Treatment: Virtual visits can help patients with mental health disorders get counseling and treatment at home, mitigating any triggers that could result from an in-person visit.
Although the pandemic boosted telehealth’s popularity and usage, it is here to stay. Both patients and healthcare providers prefer the convenience that telehealth offers.
As the role of information technology in healthcare grows, it opens up a variety of opportunities for entrepreneurs.
If you have an idea or a need for telehealth software, it may help to consult with a software development company with experience building similar applications.
An experienced healthcare software development company can assess your needs and offer cost-effective solutions to reach your goals. They can also give you insights into features and functionality you may not have considered.