Telemedicine and Internet Doctor Consults Save Patients Time and Money
Advancements in telemedicine and internet access now allow physicians and other healthcare providers to interact with and treat patients remotely via telecommunication. The extensive benefits of telemedicine include doctors being able to:
- extend medical care to rural areas previously too isolated to have access
- treat the chronically ill and those with mobility challenges more readily
- extend their specialty practices far beyond their geographical sphere. For the majority of telemedicine users, however, the draw is far more simple: they want to save time and money.
According to research from UC Davis School of Medicine, patients who used telemedicine for appointments and consultations saved “nearly nine years of travel time and about $3 million in travel costs.” These patients used telemedicine centers that had been established near their homes, and were thus able to avoid traveling to UC Davis Health in Sacramento.
While the applications for telemedicine in routine pediatric care, elder care, and mental health care are well-established — indeed, these disciplines are used often as clear examples of successfully-implemented telemedicine — the aforementioned study demonstrates that access to specialists is not only a viable venture, it’s beneficial to all parties involved. Cost of care was reduced for patients and insurers alike. Patients saved time and money traveling, and specialists were able to provide access to patients who might not have been able to pursue treatment through their offices without telemedicine.
Another recent study by Nemours Children’s Health System demonstrated that families who used telemedicine for visits to sports medicine specialists were able to save “an average of $50 in travel costs and 51 minutes in waiting and visit time (per visit)." For busy families in today’s rocky economic climate, saving nearly and hour and $50 per visit to a specialist makes telemedicine an option requiring serious consideration. Rarely do visits to specialists happen in isolation, so extended out over a period of months or years, these savings become substantial and noteworthy.
As patients realize the extent of the potential savings involved in adopting telemedicine, it’s possible that consumer demand is what will drive its implementation across the country in nearly every type of medical practice. Not only are patients ready to connect with their physicians remotely, they’re practically chomping at the bit to do so.
The only people more prepared to adopt telemedicine than modern adults might be modern children. Indeed, ask any parent; they’ll tell you that their children are almost eerily comfortable with technology. While it might have seemed strange thirty years ago, today children don’t bat an eye at interacting with their physicians through tablets or laptops. They’ve already chatted with friends and relatives in just such a manner for as long as they can remember, after all; there’s little difference for them between using Skype to chat with their grandparents and using a secure telemedicine connection to chat with their doctor.
So if patients save time and money speaking with their physicians remotely, do they have to sacrifice quality of care? Isn’t there some trade-off when you choose not to sit down face-to-face with a doctor? The answer, surprisingly, seems to be no. The previously-mentioned Nemours study also looked carefully at patient satisfaction, and, in agreement with the bulk of research on the subject, the results were overwhelmingly positive. A whopping ninety-nine percent of subjects interviewed would recommend telemedicine to their family and friends. To review: even though there is universal financial benefit (for insurers, physicians, and patients) and time saved by patients, patient satisfaction is as high or higher than that reported by patients who visit their doctors in person.
The goals of telemedicine going forward is to continue to increase access to high-quality care, reduce costs as much as possible, and meet needs that are currently unmet. Now that the technology infrastructure that is necessary to implement telemedicine has already been established across the country, the only real obstacles remain patient security and staff training.
However, physicians can choose to use secure telemedicine platform providers, most of whom will also include staff training. If your doctor’s office doesn’t have any telemedicine options, consider mentioning the research that clearly demonstrates the benefits there would be for you and for their practice. The transition to remote care has increased exponentially in the last decade, and there is not likely to be a reversal of the trend. Once things move toward convenience and immense savings and away from systems that haven’t been serving the consumer, the move is always permanent.