Telehealth offers new and innovative ways to deliver care. While the technology has been around for years, the pandemic served as a catalyst for patients and providers to increasingly use telehealth tools and capabilities. The American Hospital Association reported global telehealth investments reached $5 billion in 2021 alone. This signaled a level of market maturity, as providers remain responsive to patient needs in the aspects of virtual care, monitoring, and medication management.
The benefits of telehealth for patients are clearly outlined in improved access, fewer transfers to out-of-network specialists, and reduced healthcare costs. But there are compelling benefits for healthcare providers, too. The following points explain how the growth, insights, and technological advancements in the telehealth industry can help providers mainstream the use of telehealth as a viable model of care and hence improve overall patient outcomes.
Maintaining patient safety amid COVID-19
Telehealth goes beyond being HIPAA-compliant when it comes to integrating patient safety into its protocols. As discussed in a previous article about ‘Ensuring Patient Safety During COVID-19’, it was necessary to maintain remote services as much as possible in order to minimize direct physical contact and the risk of virus transmission between patients and staff. Telehealth’s delivery model directly aligns with this need. It can take the place of in-person care especially when the visit cannot be postponed, such as in the ongoing treatment of chronic medical conditions. Patients can avoid contracting the virus while in transit or during their in-person appointments, as they can instead schedule appointments, consult, and receive care via phone, tablet, or computer.
Improving patient engagement
Because telehealth reduces travel time and costs from end to end, providers are able to accommodate more patients and extend their time for consultations, check-ups, and evaluations. The time that was previously spent commuting and waiting in-between appointments can instead be reallocated to actual service provision. Streamlined patient enrollment and appointment overviews as features of a telehealth platform also feed into this efficiency. Lastly, the ease and convenience of virtual visits reduce the likelihood of late and missed appointments, allowing providers to conserve time and uphold the continuity of care.
Increasing job outlooks
The accelerated use of telehealth throughout the pandemic has reshaped employment practices in the healthcare sector. Demand for professionals with telehealth skills increased to about 14% per month in 2020 alone. This translates into growing opportunities for remote nurse practitioners in Minnesota as one of the states where the gap in the number of available physicians needs to be filled. On top of their telehealth skills, remote NPs have specialized training in areas such as women’s health, psychiatric care, and geriatric care that can further aid in providing patient-centric care.
The geographic flexibility of telehealth practice is further aided by policy changes. For example, Arizona has legislated out-of-state physicians to offer telehealth services to its residents as long as they register their license for cross-state use. There have also been nontraditional routes for obtaining multistate licenses, which can further expand the opportunities for physicians to maintain a practice in more than one state or even work short-term across states.
Advancing telehealth through tools and technologies
Technological advancements and digital solutions can help bolster telehealth’s reach and engagement. Among the most notable innovations used in telehealth is remote patient monitoring (RPM), which utilizes wearable technology to send real-time patient physiologic data such as blood pressure and glucose levels directly to the provider. The potential decrease in the frequency of in-person or virtual encounters can drive more patients with chronic conditions to adopt this new technology. RPM is also useful for monitoring home-based COVID patients without having to readmit them and thereby overwhelm the already-strained hospital workforce.
Health providers can also greatly benefit from the plans to combine RPM data with artificial intelligence (AI). Research published on PubMed linking telehealth and AI offers the possibility of not only tracking patient data but also applying predictive analysis and precision medicine based on anticipated symptoms and anomalies. For AI-driven RPM to become mainstream in the future, however, there must be greater investments in network speed, and battery life. Tighter measures for data privacy, security, and encryption must also come with the introduction of this emerging technology.