Telehealth, or the use of technology to provide healthcare services remotely, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Telehealth providers are sometimes employed by telehealth companies and provide services strictly in that setting. Other telehealth services are done by local physicians, university providers, and specialists. In most cases, these providers offer telehealth services for their regular clients only, as a way to increase patient outcomes and as a convenience for them. In all cases, providers have to be licensed and be on the NPI registry in order to provide telehealth services. There are several advantages and disadvantages to using telehealth, which are outlined below:
Advantages of Using Telehealth
There are many advantages of using new telehealth technology to handle routine medical care and sick visits. One of the biggest advantages is that telehealth allows patients to receive medical care from the comfort of their own homes or offices, eliminating the need for travel and wait times. This convenience is helpful for everyone, but it’s vital for people with transportation needs or who live in remote areas. It is also important for people who have small children or are very busy and find it hard to fit in-person medical visits into their day. Telehealth is also helpful for people with suppressed immune systems as it helps them avoid exposure to viruses and bacteria in medical facilities.
Telehealth can improve access to healthcare for people living in rural or remote areas, where access to medical facilities and specialists may be limited. In some cases, people in remote areas find that there’s no access to specialists at all, or they find they may have to travel long distances or out of state to get care. Telehealth can help prevent this situation. Telehealth can also help people who need specialists by allowing initial interviews to be performed remotely. Follow-up care for some procedures can also be done remotely for people who have limited access.
Telehealth can also be more cost effective than traditional in-person care, as it reduces the need for overhead costs associated with operating a physical medical facility. Some telehealth procedures are cheaper than others, but many patients find that any time they can use this option, they save money. This is especially true for people who are paying out of pocket or who have no insurance, but even those who use insurance can often see savings.
In some cases, telehealth can improve patient engagement, as patients may feel more comfortable communicating with their healthcare provider remotely, leading to better outcomes. It can also improve engagement and follow-up care because busy patients are more likely to schedule and keep telehealth appointments compared with lengthy, time-consuming in-person visits.
Studies have shown that telehealth can lead to improved patient outcomes, such as a reduction in hospital admissions and readmissions. This may be because patients are more likely to consult with their provider if they don’t have to go through the hassle and wait of an in-person appointment. Some patients simply don’t enjoy visiting the doctor and will put off concerns and needs rather than schedule an appointment. For these people, a quick telehealth visit with their provider can help increase their level of care and the provider can let them know if they need to schedule an in-person visit.
Disadvantages of Using Telehealth
Although there are many benefits of using telehealth for both patients and providers, there are also disadvantages. Many of these disadvantages are the result of using telehealth improperly or as a substitute for preventative care. However, there are some inherent problems with providing remote healthcare, so it has to be used carefully and in the correct situations.
Telehealth may not allow for a thorough physical examination, which can limit the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment. In some cases, patients may not be honest with their physicians if they are consulting through text or video calls, which can result in poor care or worsening illnesses. Sometimes, providers may not understand the situation completely due to communication differences or mistakes, which may not happen as easily in an in-person setting.
One problem with telehealth is when technical issues are encountered. Technical difficulties such as poor internet connection, malfunctioning equipment, or incompatible software can disrupt the telehealth appointment, leading to delays and frustration. These situations are often most likely when consulting with people who are more vulnerable or who need telehealth the most, such as those who are elderly, in remote areas, or who are living in poverty.
In addition, telehealth appointments may not allow for the same personal connection between healthcare providers and patients as traditional in-person care, which can affect the patient’s experience. While many patients prefer telehealth, especially for sudden needs like urgent care appointments and medication refills, others prefer to regularly visit their providers in person in order to get to know them and develop a trusting relationship.
Not all medical conditions or treatments may be covered by telehealth services, which can limit the range of treatments available. For example, most injuries and illnesses that need imaging or physical manipulation will have to be seen in person. Immunizations and medications that have to be administered in a healthcare setting cannot be prescribed through telehealth. Some medication refills cannot legally be done remotely.
Finally, for many experts and patients, Telehealth raises privacy and security concerns, such as the possibility of data breaches or unauthorized access to medical records. While the possibility of hacking attacks and data leaks is always there, measures such as cloud service backups and encryption can help reduce the risk. For most medical providers, these measures are already in place to help safeguard patient data from in-person visits.
Overall, telehealth can be a valuable tool for improving access to care, reducing costs, and improving patient outcomes. However, it also has its limitations, and it is important to consider the specific needs of each patient when deciding whether telehealth is an appropriate option. Many experts think that the use of telehealth will continue to increase and that this is a good thing, as long as certain precautions and stipulations are followed. In many cases, insurance companies and governments are implementing regulatory standards to help ensure that telehealth access isn’t abused and that it is safe for patients.