Many healthcare organizations are working on improving different areas of services and increasing patient satisfaction, and telemedicine is one of the most promising. Primarily created to provide help remotely, it is widely spreading daily, especially with the events of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and 2021. So how can telemedicine services impact healthcare costs and help overcome the current challenges that the industry faces? Let’s find this out.
Healthcare services market
2021 healthcare spendings were generally below expectations due to many reasons. Since the economy continues to recover in the post-pandemic period, many people have financial struggles resulting in medical debts and increased out-of-pocket payments. The adoption of high-deductible health plans (HDHPs) imposed out-of-pocket costs of up to $14,000 per family. This contributed to postponing preventive care or taking necessary treatments. Patients are avoiding care more often for fear of not covering deductibles under their HDHPs.
These factors, among other issues, propelled the growth of the telemedicine market. The government also significantly increased expenditures on healthcare information technology (HCIT) products and services. In addition, a rising interest in digital diagnostics is nourishing market growth. Moreover, progressive improvements in diagnosis technologies can provide opportunities for extraordinary profits and overall growth of the telemedicine market in the coming years.
Healthcare providers are undergoing rapid changes along with a growing need for online appointments by physicians and patients. American Health Association informs that 74 percent of U.S. consumers would use telemedicine services. In addition, Deloitte 2021 Global Health Care Outlook reports about 80% of patients would probably have a follow-up virtual appointment after the first one. So, what medical assistance they’re mostly seeking?
Since the surge of interest in 2020, telemedicine services have gradually split up into different scopes depending on specialty.
- Teleconsultation. The main objective is a doctor-patient exchange of clinical information. It includes remote diagnostics, prescription refills, patient treatment, and monitoring. Device-enabled examinations allow a doctor to control biological, physiological, and biometric parameters.
- Telemonitoring. It enables a convenient way to keep track of chronic patients’ state of health. Telemonitoring encourages patients to take more responsibility for their own health. Also, they spend less time in the hospital personally.
- Tele-surgery. Robotic-assisted surgical practice is one of the greatest revolutions in telemedicine. No doubt, it will be progressively developed shortly. In terms of an example, despite the unavoidable challenges, robotics allows interventions to be performed less invasively.
Most of all, consumers use virtual visits technology to monitor their health, physical activity, and prescription ordering. Satisfaction levels might differ slightly with the specialty accessed through telemedicine, but generally, patients respond well to its use. McKinsey Consumer Health Insights Survey showed that up to 60 percent of consumers are interested in a broader range of remote health solutions. This, in turn, fuels the process of structuring telemedicine services with improved data integration and insights.
Four noteworthy benefits of telemedicine
Remote treatment opportunities allow people to have a great choice in where they go for medical assistance and services. They expect proper results and the finest experience. There are some key benefits such as:
- Timely access to health care: healthcare services are available sometimes 24/7, no matter where it may be needed;
- Easy access to medical care: on-demand rapid response virtual visits are the easiest way to get help;
- Preventive care: modern devices that measure and wirelessly transmit medical data can detect a possible red flag even before external symptoms appear, thereby contributing to disease development prevention;
- Slowing the spread of infection: virtual visits reduce the risk for transmission of diseases, which is crucial for people with weak immune systems.
Telemedicine overall allows more frequent appointments through telehealth platforms whenever and wherever possible. By the way, another positive feature can be noted: people feel more relaxed and are more honest with physicians when teleconsulting from home, so patients are more likely to have their fingers on the pulse of their health condition.
Some of the challenges along the way
However, there are several collateral disadvantages when using telemedicine over traditional patient care methods:
- licensure (telemedicine and telehealth standards must adhere to same standards for in-person clinical treatment);
- insufficient coverage of medical branches (some of them remain inaccessible due to technical reasons);
- liability (a touch screen, infrared thermometer, tongue depressor, otoscope, stethoscope, as well as intelligent lighting and camera attached to the device are not a guarantee of reliable diagnostics as a patient, not a specialist, uses them);
- privacy and security (electronic health records exchange may be threatened by data leakage);
- Insurance reimbursement (insurance benefits for telemedicine services may not be guaranteed and vary from state to state).
How will telemedicine impact the future of healthcare?
In the light of the foregoing challenges, telemedicine is still recognized as a fast-growing trend in the healthcare industry, conducive to innovations. American Telemedicine Association (AHA) published many reports and research assessing the cost-effectiveness of different telemedicine applications. According to the one in Pennsylvania, the US, the remote patient monitoring program saved 11% in costs and increased the return of investment by over 300% for the investors.
Who stands to benefit from telemedicine services the most? First, it can be advantageous for many consumers. For example, healthcare providers and their employees can save time and money by eliminating extended absences from work and reducing billable expenses incurred from in-house visits. Virtual visits can also reduce the number of appointment cancellations, which cost health providers a substantial amount of money each year.
Along with cost savings both for patients and employers, telemedicine can also benefit medical workers in particular. It is not uncommon for a doctor to provide free consultations after hours. Оnline doctor-patient appointments via telemedicine platforms have enabled additional billable hours for physicians. This practice has lowered health care costs through fewer hospital admissions. Moreover, it reduced the average length of stay in the hospital and, importantly, cut travel times for everyone involved. The study revealed that telehealth solutions could eliminate as many as 387,000 transfers to emergency departments and physician offices annually, resulting in a transport cost savings of $327 million.
For most telemedicine applications, researchers have proven that there is no difference in the ability of the provider to receive medical data, give a precise diagnosis, and provide a treatment plan that produces the same outcomes as compared to in-person therapy when used properly. Therefore, overall, a positive impact on healthcare costs is to be expected even before 2025.
Until the situation with the COVID-19 pandemic remains in flux, healthcare providers will certainly continue to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of telemedicine solutions. The priority of telemedicine in healthcare management at the moment is the facilitation of administrative processes, such as medical tests requests or appointments for a follow-up consultation. Of course, telemedicine enhances and assists traditional healthcare methods but by no means replaces them at 100%. Moreover, medical care gradually gets more expensive when the population expands; increases in chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart attacks are also a source of concern. Nevertheless, telehealth technology effectively delivers quality care while reducing costs on treatment, and it can be said that it will keep positively influencing costs of services.
Alex Kulitski Founder, CEO at Smart IT
Alex is the Founder and CEO of Smart IT and is the co-founder and executive CTO at MEDvidi. Being a serial entrepreneur, he is a keen investor in technology startups and runs several successful side projects besides Smart IT and MEDvidi.