BENEFITS OF TELEHEALTH
The use of digital technology in accessing medical services has come to stay. Hospitals are increasingly using virtual care technology to improve the value of health care. Besides obvious benefits such as its affordability, reduction in patient transfers, saving patient time and money, here are the most obvious reasons telehealth is fast becoming the center stage in healthcare delivery.
Helps Rural Areas
Traditional healthcare delivery to rural areas has always been of immense challenge in less developed countries like Nigeria. Notable reasons for this range from logistics barriers to shortage of medical personnel and facilities in most rural settlements. This makes it difficult for rural communities to receive quality care and services, and most times, they don’t.
The use of digital technology provides the opportunity for rural dwellers to connect with providers outside their locality. So, if a patient in a rural environment cannot find the kind of service they need for their ailment, they can always connect with a specialist on a national level, through any device with an internet connection. This way, they do not feel left out, but can always receive all the care, referrals, and prescriptions without having to travel long miles out of their way.
Physicians Reach More Patients
One of the problems faced by doctors from in-office visits is that they can’t reach as many patients within their specialty due to geographical hindrance. For example, a geriatrician won’t be able to reach as many elderly patients in a younger populated area; and a pediatrician won’t be able to reach as many children with healthcare needs in a city that has a majority of older adults.
Telehealth gives providers the opportunity to connect with their target care receivers from anywhere regardless of the demographic make up of their own location. Therefore, telehealth serves as an opportunity for healthcare providers to increase their patient base, ensuring they serve as many people as possible, to keep themselves in business.
From the time it takes to getting to a hospital, waiting in line for turns, and the time spent with a clinician, it is obvious that in-person appointments require more time than a virtual visit.
The Harvard Medical School conducted a study on how much time patients spend on medical visits. They found that a typical doctor visit consumes an estimated 121 minutes for patients. This includes an average of 37 minutes in travel, 64 minutes filling out forms in the waiting room, and 20 minutes with the physician. Travel time may even be more for those in rural areas or those who rely on public transportation.
Virtual visits through telecommunication use significantly less time as the above mentioned activities are not needed. Forms can be filled online and appointment booked way before a patient’s virtual appointment. The time spent between booking an appointment and speaking with a doctor, can always be used for other productive activities from wherever they are.
Cuts Costs for Patients and Providers
Studies have shown that the cost of telehealth services are lower compared to in-person care.
On the patients side, the cost of accessing in-person care will include the cost of healthcare services, transportation and time spent, which will obviously be cut down if patients can receive healthcare services from the comforts of their homes. Also, through telehealth, patients can consult clinicians before seeking out emergency services. By this, hasty decisions can be avoided for services that can easily be resolved without visiting urgent care or emergency services, thereby saving cost for patients.
Some patients visit the hospital for the sake of follow ups, either for post-surgery or illness, where the doctor may just need to check in to see how they’re doing. It could be quite strenuous for patients to make such quick appointments, especially those still recovering, or the elderly, who need rest and can’t drive on their own.
A virtual visit can always fix such fuss, so that patients can stay in the comfort of their homes and receive their follow-up assessment. The doctor can ensure their recovery is going well and make the decision of whether they will need to return for more evaluation or not.
Reduces Spread of Illness
Telehealth services are a good way to keep sick people out of the doctor’s office. We’ve especially seen how important this is during a time of crisis, when the world battled the corona virus disease (COVID-19) outbreak.
For patients with contagious ailments, the goal is to keep them away from the doctor or hospital to help reduce the spread of illness. For those who don’t have a contagious illness, they may even be more reluctant to visit their physician for fear of catching a disease. The elderly, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses and compromised immune systems are examples of people who may require routine visits, and may not want to for fear of catching more diseases. Hospitals only have so many beds. This is where telehealth comes in.
Telehealth enables virtual appointments where a physician can access a patient’s condition and refer them to appropriate specialist or recommend treatment. The physicians can also advise those with severe symptoms to seek further treatment. It prevents people with transmittable diseases from exposing others since they can first visit a doctor online instead of in a populated area with vulnerable population.
One of the high points of telecommunication is that it increases convenience. As it enables connection from anywhere, people do not need to make as much effort as before in communication. For example, a patient working in a city different from that of a provider will not need to miss work for a visit.
It relieves the stress of finding transportation, costs related to missing work, and lost time during busy schedules. It’s also convenient for patients who are too sick to drive, lactating mothers, or even the elderly who struggle to get to places on their own.
Reduces Cancellations and No-Shows
With digital technology, all that’s required for a patient to show up for a virtual appointment is an internet ready smart device. Because of this convenience, patients don’t need to cancel doctors’ appointments as often, decreasing the issue of no-shows. This benefits both the patient and the physician.
With virtual options, patients can do away with hindrances to their appointments such as transportation, illness, work, or family factor; and physicians won’t lose revenue from the lost appointment time that another patient could have used. This is another cost-cutter of telehealth.
The use of digital technology in accessing healthcare has come to stay as is has proven to contribute significantly in increasing access to physicians and specialists, helping ensure patients receive the right care, at the right place, at the right time.