As telemedicine remains in-demand by patients, hospitals across the country have recognized additional benefits than previously noted. But there is a major disconnect between what patients are demanding and what healthcare providers have been offering. This article will discuss why so many hospitals still have not jumped on board with telehealth and how that affects patients in the long term.
The above statement isn’t to say that thousands upon thousands of hospitals and health systems aren’t providing a telehealth option to patients, because many of them are – however the types of telehealth being offered is limited due to a number of factors unique to each individual organization.
Misunderstanding of implementation.
One of the major reasons many hospitals have yet to implement telehealth is due to a lack of understanding about what it really entails. Many healthcare providers and administrators believe that telemedicine equates to doctors sitting in an office, performing remote checkups on patients over video conference calls in-between caring for other patients and while these types of visits exist, they’re often limited to only established patients leaving out a large number of others looking for a new healthcare and ultimately seeking online care elsewhere.
Here is where it’s important to recognize the distinction between a self-staffed platform that is primarily run through your EMR such as EPIC and MyChart and a platform staffed by 24/7 by external providers who are available on-demand, otherwise known as virtual urgent care.
Hospitals without virtual urgent care available to both new and existing patients are missing the opportunity for patient acquisition and downstream revenue.
Another common misconception about telemedicine is that it’s a form of treatment. In many cases, this may be true – but for the majority of patients seeking virtual visits with healthcare providers, they’re looking to receive their diagnosis or seek advice on how best to manage an existing condition before getting in contact with a medical professional at all.
In this instance, a standard telehealth service is not recommended. It also highlights an even more important reason for services that enable in-network referrals to continue the patient’s treatment. Something internal providers already stretched to their maximum bandwidth simply can’t handle, not to mention out of the box technology included with an EMR’s offering just aren’t equipped to handle patient redirection.
Hospitals are often protective of their resources and reluctant to invest in new technology that may not be proven. Prior to the pandemic the word telehealth was often synonymous with expensive hardware, rolling carts, cumbersome cameras, and challenging network connections – that’s just simply no longer the case. Even for hospitals looking to self-staff their own service, all that is needed today is a functioning computer with an integrated camera, a decent microphone or headset, and an internet connection that can handle video bandwidth.
Also, many hospitals are hesitant because they don’t want to pay for the necessary technology upgrades needed for implementing telehealth services and providing quality care online when there is no incentive from insurance companies who foot most of the bill for these organizations’ budgets. This leaves them feeling like any potential benefits outweighs what would have been required investment upfront. Hospitals already have a sizable budget, which is primarily allocated for salaries and benefits rather than innovations like telemedicine.
Today, technology upgrades are included with cloud-based apps and require no extra work or costs from the hospital or health system. Additionally, some telehealth solution companies are offering lower up-front fees by relying on a shared revenue model. Not only does this reduce costs, but helps to ensure the vendor will do everything they can to help the hospital or health system reach success.
The lack of a need.
Many hospitals still believe that telehealth services are only for people who live in rural America and the like, but even metropolitan areas have an increasingly large population of seniors living alone – often too frail to visit their doctor’s office or hospital emergency room without fear of injury from falling on icy sidewalks outside, snow banks lining parking lots or worse yet getting lost because they can’t read street signs. It should be noted that it’s not just millennials that use telehealth.
Other factors make the case for virtual convenience care no matter where the hospital is located including:
- Telemedicine helps save time and money for patients who need immediate medical attention
- A patient can call or go online when they want the doctor’s help (no waiting)
- Saving on gas costs and childcare costs
- Ease of scheduling appointments that work with their schedule instead of trying to find a provider available at an odd hour and without a long wait. (Telemedicine also saves insurers considerable amounts too. The average cost per visit is between $200-$400 with anywhere from 25%-50% savings when compared to traditional office visits.)
Telemedicine is a huge convenience for patients. It’s also an ongoing boon to providers, who are spared the time and effort of making trips that may not be necessary
And if your hospital does happen to qualify as rural, it provides more access points for not only patients in your area, but opens you up to receive revenues from an extended service area previously not accessible. If there isn’t enough facilities near you it makes sense to have telehealth options nearby so your needs don’t go unmet due to lack of proximity.
For hospitals who still have not implemented virtual urgent care, they should consider implementing one as soon as possible. If hospitals do not act now to implement new technologies in order to stay ahead of this trend, it is likely that more and more patients will seek care elsewhere—at home or an alternative provider’s office. How many hospitals are going to lose out on revenue by failing to provide virtual urgent care?
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