Telemedicine Is Rapidly Changing & Evolving
Telemedicine is the digital information distribution of healthcare-related services. Not long-ago telemedicine was an innovative practice, primarily a supplement to hospitals' information strategy managing patient care and their data more efficiently. During the coronavirus pandemic and its associated urgent healthcare needs, hospitals and medical offices are making telehealth capabilities more available than ever before. Long-distance patient and clinician contact, advice, reminders, care, education, intervention, monitoring, and remote admissions have become the norm.
The push for comprehensive virtual medical care quickly without a standardized platform has left many healthcare facilities struggling to meet demand with technological data integrity and consistent user interface. Just as individual’s panic led to purchasing toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other essential household items creating shortages, hospitals "pandemic-purchased" telehealth solutions to ride out the crisis led to a hodgepodge of tech solutions. This situation led to medical information security breaches, dropped call and video conferencing, poor audio and video quality, and distorted or incorrect information relayed to patients and health insurance companies alike.
Patients who were sheltering in place and rather fearful at the outset of the pandemic were initially forgiving of technological glitches. Today, however, patients have higher expectations of telemedicine and seek seamless experiences. Patients are also taking advantage of the ability to test-drive options from home, exploring physician expertise, availability, disposition, and price point before committing to a particular doctor, health care practitioner, or hospital facility. Additionally, patients are enjoying the experience and are now more likely to seek virtual care. It turns out that a patient using telehealth is more likely to adhere to prescription and wellness regimes, which is an advantage to public health overall. On average, telemedicine saves a patient more than 90 minutes otherwise wasted in commuting to an appointment and waiting to be seen by a doctor.
Clinics and hospitals are also embracing the benefits of telemedicine. Virtual medicine has played a vital role in quickly flattening the curve by getting to as many patients as possible without compromising social distancing and urgent care only protocols. Patients with chronic conditions and other non-urgent care, including routine follow-ups, can still engage with their physicians, allowing medical care, decreased patient anxiety, and maintaining facility reputation through patient retention. This continuity of care is essential, especially for urgent non-COVID-19 related health issues.
Health care facilities and medical professionals are now able to reach a new demographic of patients through telemedicine, particularly those in rural areas or those who list time, convenience, and proximity as barriers to making an initial consultation. Fully 76 percent of hospitals now employ telemedicine services, and two-thirds of patients report a willingness to use telehealth in the future, even after the pandemic ends.
Telemedicine also yields significant savings of time and money for healthcare organizations and patients. An average in-office visit is 121 minutes, including 101 minutes of commute and waiting time. Therefore, a patient is only experiencing about 20 minutes of interaction with their doctor. A full one-third of patients have left a doctor's office because the wait was too long. Telemedicine reduces wait times, no-shows, and cancellations saving time and money. There are also flexible insurance benefits to take advantage of when using telehealth.
How can you best assess your hospital or doctor's office telemedicine platform and service? Medicaleconomics.com cites four questions that you must ask to find the service best suited to your needs. Telemedicine can vary drastically among categories such as compliance, quality, convenience, and features, so keep the following in mind as you search for the right fit.
- Look for easy to use technology. As a patient, you should have no trouble downloading and accessing a telehealth app. It should be easy to use and intuitive and be available on multiple digital devices such as a tablet, phone, or laptop.
- Is the software provide HIPPA compliant and secure? Privacy issues are a major concern when using non-healthcare specific solutions like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and others. Ensure your telehealth provider keeps your sensitive information digitally safe.
- Make sure that the platform provides quality audio and video transmission. You will feel more comfortable, and your session will yield the best results knowing that communication is clear. Miscommunication can lead to misdiagnosis and have tragic health consequences.
- Shop around before committing. Read online reviews and speak to others about their telehealth experiences. Finding reputable healthcare facilities doesn't stop with a board-certified physician. Facility reputation can be the difference between ease of interaction, diagnosis, and follow-up regarding insurance.
Embracing telemedicine can open your healthcare to expert physicians, save you time, and maintain the significant benefit of social distancing. Look for a healthcare organization with the right telemedicine framework for you. It will help you stay current with your routine medical care despite the coronavirus pandemic.
If you have questions or would like to discuss your personal situation, please don’t hesitate to contact us. And if you are outside of Florida, please contact an experienced Elder Law Attorney (preferably one that is Board Certified in Elder Law) to assist you.
Jason A. Penrod is only the 20th attorney to be Board Certified as an Elder Law Expert by the Florida Bar and the National Elder Law Foundation. He is the founder of Family Elder Law (www.familyelderlaw.com) which has offices in Lakeland, Lake Wales, and Sebring, Florida.