Telehealth has grown rapidly over the past few years. 76% of health systems are expected to have implemented telehealth by the end of 2018, according to a survey held by Teladoc.
However, many misconceptions have grown up around telehealth. In a February 26 webcast, Roy Schoenberg, MD, president, CEO and co-founder of American Well, listed some of those myths and misconceptions. As related on Becker’s Hospital Review, here are some of those misconceptions.
Telehealth can only be used for basic or urgent care.
Many people assume that, because telehealth often operates on a secure video conferencing platform in surroundings other than a fully furnished doctor’s office, only basic care such as coughs, sniffles and low-grade fevers can be treated in a telehealth setting.
However, this is only the start of what telehealth can be used for.
Follow-up visits (after the initial appointment) may be made through telehealth, allowing greater ease and convenience for patients and more comprehensive data for providers. Telehealth can connect specialists to rural hospitals, bringing the specialist to the patient.
Another use of telehealth that few consider is consultations between providers who may be on opposite coasts, allowing better care for patients from behind the scenes.
New innovations in medical technology are also expected to bring more of the diagnostic tools currently available in the doctor’s office directly to the consumer. For instance, the Butterfly iQ plugs into a smartphone to create sharp, clear ultrasound images; surgeon John Martin was testing the device and found a tumor in his own neck. Currently, the device is only available to medical professionals, but with the growing trend of devices that were once considered specialty devices or luxury items becoming available to consumers, this may change.
Telehealth return on investment is calculable only by the number of patients using it.
As telehealth can be used for follow-up appointments after the patient’s discharge from the hospital, telehealth consultations can drastically reduce costly re-hospitalizations by checking in with patients and caregivers and streamlining care. By using telemedicine to consult with other providers, health systems can ensure that patients are receiving the best possible care, which also saves money.
Telehealth can be integrated with an existing framework without a second thought.
When telehealth is first integrated, most physicians are already busy and can’t staff telehealth right away. Training and re-allocation of time, as well as an adjustment period, must be considered before telehealth can be fully implemented.
Traditional marketing is enough to inform patients about telehealth.
Traditional marketing used by health systems tends to be highly localized. However, telehealth, with its ability to operate even across state lines (hyperlink to eNLC article), can not be used to its full potential when it is marketed only in a single city or suburb.
For telehealth to reach its full potential of use, web marketing strategies must also be executed. Digital marketing may seem intimidating to those without prior experience with it, but impressions are easier to calculate and the cost of advertising that leads to a visit may be as low as 50 cents.
Competition in telehealth is the same as competition in traditional healthcare.
Due to the broad geographical range of telehealth, telehealth may compete with other telehealth services and local clinics, hospitals and practices. Since they don’t have a physical location in the area, some of these competitors may even seem invisible.
Insurance claims for telehealth are identical to ordinary insurance claims.
Insurance providers may cover telehealth differently from their coverage of similar services in-person. They may require a different process for claims, or out-of-pocket costs may be greater.
It’s crucial to understand that telehealth is a continuously-evolving technology. Many still do not realize the full benefits and potential of telemedicine; however, with judicious marketing, consumers may recognize the benefits offered by telehealth. In the future, telehealth may be further enhanced by the implementation of easy-to-use personal medical diagnostic devices.
Telehealth has the potential to break down barriers of stigma, cost and distance to increase access to healthcare for those who need it most. Current challenges to telemedicine include health insurance policy, laws which limit its use, and consumer and provider misconceptions. To increase access to healthcare through telemedicine for those in need, advocacy to inform lawmakers and the public is key.