Patients prefer telehealth research shows that 94% of patients who used telehealth for the first time during the pandemic were satisfied with their experience. The unprecedented changes that have taken place in the healthcare industry over the course of the past year have led to various changes. First, the number of practices offering their services online to increase steadily day by day. Second, more and more patients are more open to integrating the telehealth platform as a part of their healthcare experience. To patients, the benefits of telehealth are evident, convenience, a large pool of specialists to choose from, accessibility as some of the most prized features provided thanks to virtual healthcare.

What is telehealth?

It is different from telemedical which is concerned with the delivery of healthcare services online. Telehealth is an umbrella term used to refer to a set of solutions that allow medical health practitioners to take their services online but it is also used to refer to technology that can be used to offer various aspects of medical services digitally.

Despite the skepticism, telemedicine has been practiced for a long time. For example, the state of Missouri for example has been using telehealth for more than 25 years to address the shortage of physicians in rural areas. However, in recent years their services have expanded to include remote monitoring of chronic conditions of patients as well as emergency departments. Businesses that specialize in selling telehealth platforms provide different features which may include but may not be limited to:

Conferencing capabilities

Most telehealth platforms provide high-quality video and audio-conferencing systems that are available for both a smartphone or laptop. It allows the patient and the healthcare practitioners to interact with each other in real-time. This simulates an in-person practice and the patient can show the doctor a wound, dislocation, or protrusion in any part of their body.

Integration of medical tools

Telehealth providers integrate digital medical tools into the platform. Devices may include virtual stethoscopes which record the audio from the patient and transmit it to the doctor. Some of them allow patients to record audio from a specific body part such as their heard or stomach. The other tool may be a wireless scale to obtain a reading of the patient’s weight. Digital thermometers can record a patient’s temperature, through the camera. The thermometer can provide multiple readings throughout the day and send the information to the patient. Some platforms may also include digital otoscopes to helps patients examine their ear and pulse oximeters to assess the oxygen level of the patient.

Electronic Health Record

Most platforms allow doctors to record audio and video during the session so that they can be used for future reference. Many states also require digital practices to record a patient-doctor interaction. They also allow the doctor to make digital notes and attach them to a patient’s record. Many telehealth providers allow multiple practitioners to update the record in real-time. Electronic Health records also allow doctors to keep track of the patient’s basic information such as history, diagnosis, previous treatments, allergies, and laboratory results. Besides, telehealth providers also provide the capability to share patient records safely through encrypted cloud networks. 

Clinic portal

They are specially made so that patients can schedule self-scheduled appointments, self-check-in, upload tests such as MRI, X-Rays, or even prescriptions.  Many platforms require users to create a username and password for patients to be able to access the clinic and attend their appointment. A clinic portal may or may not include a mobile application.  

Medical Billing Services

It works like the billing department at any physical practice. A telehealth platform may include integrated billing services as part of their services.  Billing services include initiating claims, processing claims, denials, and aging settlements, keep track of receivables, and finally, collecting payments. All of this is done remotely by a team of experts.

Online Chat

Many virtual clinics provide patients the option to communicate with healthcare professionals via secure messaging. It works like any messaging application with notifications from the website and smartphone application, the ability to share pictures and videos, and communication in real-time. However, unlike other platforms, in a telehealth chat platform, the phone numbers of patient or doctor are not disclosed for security purposes and a complete log of all the messages sent are not disclosed either.

Types of services provided through telehealth platforms

Most people are familiar with Real time-consultations where a patient consults with a doctor via live video and audio conferencing. However, there are four other types of services that can be provided through telehealth platforms:

Remote patient monitoring

This allows medical healthcare professionals such as nurses or primary caregivers the ability to monitor their patient’s vitals from a distance. It gives healthcare providers the to mentor as many as 50 patients at a time remotely. It helps healthcare professionals and patients to manage non-critical recurrent conditions such as hypertension and diabetes. it cuts down the number of routine visits, patients only visit when it is necessary. It also helps patients recover outside controlled hospital settings.

Medical Imaging

For patients who need X-rays, scans, or ultrasounds it is possible to send high-resolution images to other healthcare professionals. Hence, patients in remote areas can get tested and upload the results in the clinic’s virtual portal. This way, patients can consult with specialists even remotely. Hospitals have been taking advantage of this by administering tests and then sending them to a specialist across the country.  

Store and forward telemedicine

This involves the collection of relevant quantitative and quality patient records and their transfer across long distances. Data such as medical history, demographics, scans, ultrasounds, laboratory tests can be transferred safely through secured and encrypted networks. Store and forward practices do not have any time constraints. Records are transferred and inspected by other relevant specialists.

Physician-to-Physician consultations

Telehealth is not just used by the patient to consult with doctors. Through telehealth, physicians also have wide access to specialists. They can choose to consult with each other so that they can share patient history and condition, which leads to improved patient care.

How do practices benefit from telehealth platforms?

All in one tool kit

Telehealth platforms often provide a complete toolkit to set up an online platform. Everything from setting up the clinical portal, a HIPAA-compliant secured cloud network, and much more is handled by telehealth platform providers. Practitioners do not need to worry about the nitty-gritty details of maintaining the tools used. They were made to be used intuitively, and most businesses provide customer support to counter any issues arising.

Makes clinical workflows more efficient

Telehealth platforms help practices capture data more quickly, categorize it more efficiently. Patient data can also be scrutinized using a variety of analytical tools. Hence, high-quality patient care can be delivered. Furthermore, practices can accelerate the decision-making process by prioritizing which patient requires more attention.

Decrease the strain on the hospital

Access to primary healthcare is a prevailing issue in the country. There is a significant portion of Americans that lie in rural areas or belong to groups that do not have access to quality healthcare services. These patients may have to wait for weeks before their appointment can be scheduled. The current shortage of doctors is a problem that will prevail. According to a report by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there will be a shortage of doctors worth 54,100 to 139,00 physicians. Telehealth platforms can provide a viable solution to this problem by allowing healthcare practitioners to expand their capabilities.

Reduce the amount of missed appointments

Long waits at the hospital or long-distance deter patients from attending their appointments. Even if they have booked them weeks or days in advance. However, with telehealth platforms, patients are more likely to avail their appointment because they can do so from the comfort of their own homes.

Can be used during unprecedented disasters

Following the devastating COVID 19 pandemic, the world has turned to telemedicine. This shows the potential of telehealth platforms in disaster response management. After a natural disaster or unexpected pandemics, the healthcare infrastructure is damaged. The influx of patients and shortage of healthcare personnel can be addressed via the use of telehealth platforms, patients can be passed quickly, these platforms can be deployed quickly as well to support areas that have been struck with disaster.

Cost-effectiveness

The personnel needed to operate a virtual clinic is small. Paying for front desk support, or office space will not be necessary. Many telehealth platforms even offer to process medical billing for free. The cost for initial consultation particularly can be lowered considerably. Furthermore, a virtual clinic can become an additional source of revenue for the practice.

Reducing the volume of visits in-person

One of the issues most practices and hospitals face is overcrowding. Often there are more patients than personnel can handle. Most patients come because of recurring issues that can be treated remotely. This is especially true for patients with chronic conditions. By offering virtual healthcare through telehealth platforms the strain on healthcare personnel is reduced considerably.

Can be used to share knowledge

During outbreaks of life-threatening or debilitating diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Influenza, SARS, Ebola, etc. across the globe, experts can easily use telehealth platforms to meet up. Instead, of traveling long distances and expend resources the latest information and treatment methodologies can be shared much more efficiently.

Challenges of using telehealth platforms

Initial Adoption

Shifting from an in-person system to an exclusively digital one can be challenging. There may be resistance from the staff not because the tools used in a digital clinic are different but because using them requires a different communication style. Hence, it is very important to ensure that the online system is not forced upon them. To overcome this issue, initial training is critical. This training has to include immersion with digital tools and how to deal with burnout and fatigue that comes with using these digital tools.

Creates extra workload

The large-scale implementation of Electronic Health Records has brought forth a revolution in healthcare industry. Increased access to searchable and sharable data has helped improve the way healthcare is delivered. However, maintaining EHR’s takes up a big portion of healthcare professionals. Adding virtual appointments with patients can be difficult if not managed properly. This is why it is important to choose a telehealth provider that creates systems that are centered around the human experience standards. They should not seek to maximize efficiency. Rather, they should seek to make the process easier for the human who is using it. Otherwise, the potential for efficiency and increased quality patient care that comes with telehealth platforms may not be fulfilled.

Telehealth platforms provide the technical expertise healthcare professionals need to implement the tools that are needed to offer their services virtually. Some of the tools included are conferencing capabilities, integration of medical tools, electronic health records, clinic portal, medical Billing Services, and online chats.

The advantages of implementing a telehealth platform are undeniable for practices and hospitals of all sizes such as responding to calamities more effectively, sharing knowledge during outbreaks, reducing in-person visits, improving cost-effectiveness, reduce the number of missed appointments, decrease strain on personnel. However, before implementing them staff must be provided with extensive training on how to use the digital platforms, how to communicate effectively through the new digital medium, and how to overcome fatigue. Finally, it is important to ensure that the provider has created a human-centric system, one that was designed to help humans achieve better results.

Good telehealth platforms don’t just emulate experience on an in-person visit to the hospital, they replace an in-person visit. With the right tools, your clinic can deliver services on-par with state-of-the-art hospitals. OutSquare MD provides a 360-degree solution for all virtual care providers. We are offering free demos of our telehealth platform!.

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