The Impact of Telehealth on Healthcare Administration
- Healthcare Administration
- October 12, 2023
- 201 views
- 7 min read
Whether you are an aspiring or current medical administrator, you may be wondering about the long-term impacts of telehealth on healthcare administration or the healthcare industry as a whole. This article addresses questions such as “How can telehealth services be used to improve patient access to care?” or “How can telehealth services be used to reduce the cost of medical care?”
Understanding the Fundamentals: What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is an umbrella term that describes the use of technology in providing healthcare services remotely, where the medical provider is not in the same physical space as the patient. There are a number of varieties of telehealth that may be used, depending on the medical specialty and circumstances.
Technological advancements over the past decade have resulted in the growing popularity of such options, and this trend was only accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020. Recent reviews of data showed that the usage of telehealth has stabilized at levels 38 times higher than pre-pandemic utilization in 2019.
Generally speaking, telehealth enhances the accessibility of medical care and greatly improves the convenience of accessing care for patients. It also can be more convenient for medical staff and providers; therefore, it is expected to continue to grow in popularity in the coming years.
Improved Patient Access
One of the most significant benefits of telemedicine is that it reduces barriers for patients in remote and underserved areas to access medical care without traveling significant distances.
This allows individuals who typically could not afford to access regular or preventative care to seek such care on a regular basis, improving overall patient outcomes. In a recent study, 24% of rural patients reported they would have delayed care or not sought care at all if they did not have access to telemedicine services.
While these benefits are most pronounced for individuals who are in geographically isolated areas, they also apply to individuals living in urban areas. In fact, as beneficial as telemedicine has been in the rural setting, its adoption has actually been even faster in urban settings.
Telemedicine improves patient access in urban settings through a number of mechanisms:
- It reduces the time commitment needed to seek medical care and advice, which can be a barrier for lower-income patients.
- It reduces the cost of seeking medical care and advice, as providers do not incur the same costs that exist inside a physical facility.
- It can provide an attainable pathway for patients who are mobility-restricted to secure regular medical attention.
Efficiency and Cost Savings
Telemedicine is more efficient from both an administrative and cost perspective. Telemedicine reduces the administrative burden associated with the check-in, rooming, and check-out process.
In the virtual environment, all necessary information is collected before the patient is admitted into the virtual waiting room or exam room, ensuring that the time spent with medical staff is relatively frictionless.
These adjustments in the process also make patient encounters faster for patients themselves, improving their experience, and for providers, allowing them to see more patients and reduce the overall cost of delivering care. The average cost savings associated with the use of telemedicine are between $147 and $186 per visit for patients, according to a study published in January 2023.
Additionally, as referenced above, for mobility-restricted patients or patients located in a geographically difficult-to-reach area, providers often need to travel to see the patients, increasing costs for their care. By using telemedicine, they can avoid travel and related expenses, as well as the additional time spent getting to and from the point of care.
Finally, while it must be acknowledged that telemedicine has not completely eliminated wait times in medical practices, it reduces the negative perceptions associated with wait time, as patients can wait from the comfort of their home or office space.
Reduced No-Shows and Cancellations
Another way that telemedicine improves the cost structure and outcomes of healthcare is by reducing appointment no-shows and cancellations. Patients are less likely to cancel when virtual visits align better with their schedule and daily commitments. The improved convenience is not only better for patients but also better for providers, as they are better able to maximize their time spent during the day.
Virtual appointments tend to be easier to schedule, as they are more predictable in length and less subject to the delays commonly seen inside medical facilities. This further reduces the likelihood that patients miss their medical consultations and delay accessing important care and guidance.
Studies have also shown that telemedicine both reduces no-show rates overall and has an oversized impact on reducing no-show rates among low-income populations that typically have the greatest barriers to obtaining care. This amplifies the benefits associated with such a reduction in no-show rates to overall health outcomes in the country.
Healthcare Workforce Satisfaction
Telemedicine not only is more convenient and more cost-effective for patients and providers but also enhances job satisfaction among healthcare professionals when deployed successfully. It provides healthcare professionals, whose jobs typically are very demanding in-office, with an opportunity to access more flexible work arrangements and reduces the strain of in-person visits.
This can positively impact work-life balance among healthcare workers and contribute to higher levels of job satisfaction. This is especially important in the modern day, as we have seen greater numbers of healthcare workers reporting dissatisfaction and leaving the industry after the recent pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, burnout was a significant issue within the industry due to how demanding patient care can be on providers and medical auxiliaries. Telemedicine offers a viable pathway to help retain more of these skilled workers in the industry.
Regulatory Changes and Telehealth
The most important reason that telemedicine has exploded in popularity over the last several years is due to the relaxation of certain restrictions that existed on telemedicine prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As those restrictions were removed out of necessity, it forced medical providers and government regulators to reevaluate the effectiveness of this delivery method for patient care.
Once they did so, it was undeniable that this alternative method provided unique benefits that could not be accessed through traditional delivery methods. This has resulted in long-term regulatory adjustments that will enable telemedicine to continue to grow and thrive in the future.
Challenges and Future Outlook
Medical professionals and administrators must consider challenges associated with data privacy and security in the virtual environment as they seek to implement telemedicine into new and different medical settings and practices. There will likely need to be a significant investment in the technology used to deliver telemedicine to meet these challenges.
Some potential solutions include the deployment of advanced encryption and data protection measures to ensure a secure telehealth experience for all patients. This is especially important for medical practices to focus on, as not all patients have the same level and security of internet access that ensures their privacy is protected in a virtual environment.
Another trend to monitor associated with telemedicine is the integration of artificial intelligence. We do not yet know the long-term impact of such technologies on the medical industry, but we can be sure that it is likely to have both positive and negative impacts that need to be managed.
In conclusion, there are several significant positive impacts that we have observed as telemedicine has expanded within the United States. These impacts include improved patient access, reduced costs, improved efficiency, improved patient satisfaction, and improved healthcare worker job satisfaction. Current trends continue to demonstrate that telemedicine has the potential to revolutionize healthcare delivery and administration.
Although there are risks associated with continued advancement in this area, risks are inherent in the system and should not be a dissuading factor for the healthcare industry to invest in this technology or other advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence.