In so many ways, our lives are becoming more and more remote. Higher education can be achieved without setting foot inside a college. We can keep up-to-date with friends and family without catching a train. And shopping is delivered to our doors with a simple click of a button. Overall, life is now manageable from a computer or phone, and very little exists that cannot be accessed and administered online.
The same can now be said for our health. Telemedicine, the process of managing health from a distance via telephone, video, email or instant messaging systems, is becoming increasingly popular, with more than 36 million Americans making use of this service and more than half of Americans having access to a telemedicine program.
While telemedicine has gained massive popularity over the last decade, it’s not a new concept. In fact, the first known case of telemedicine dates back to the early 1900s, when two-way radios were used between medics and people living in the Australian outback to resolve common ailments. Modern telemedicine is, of course, significantly more sophisticated, but the original concept remains: If a patient cannot (or does not want to) attend a clinic or hospital, they now have the option to have their matter investigated remotely. But is this a good idea?
A Faster Service for Patients
One of the key advantages telemedicine offers is its speed. Given that the wait time in some places to see a family doctor is as long as 18.5 days, telemedicine automatically cuts this wait time down so that patients can speak to a professional on a day and time of their choice. Similarly, clinicians are able to control the appointment with great efficiency, with fewer interruptions or hold-ups. And the great news is that the quality of that speedier appointment does not appear to be compromised. In fact, a study of the outcomes of 8000 patients using telemedicine services did not show any difference between a virtual appointment and face-to-face appointment.
Building A Better Business
Traditionally, general practitioners have been almost entirely dependent upon word of mouth and retail presence to attract new patients. Building a client base is a core business process. But the problem for doctors is that visible retail space is very expensive, and their dependence upon their retail location puts them in a difficult position. In some areas new business ceases to come in as the retail environment around the doctor’s practice dries up. This is common in ‘ghost malls’ where once thriving businesses are now all gone. Second, the doctor’s ability to earn is largely dependent upon the landlord’s willingness to charge a fair rental fee. It’s not uncommon for doctors to discover that their success is diminished by oversized rental increases every time they renew their lease. Telemedicine gives doctors a way to develop new clients and expand their practice without being locked into a single location to create new patient opportunities.
Cost Reduction All Round
Multiple studies have demonstrated that cost savings are inevitable with the introduction of telemedicine. In fact, The Geisinger Health Plan study suggested that telemedicine programs generate about 11% in cost savings due to an estimated return on investment of $3.30 in cost savings for every $1 spent on its implementation. At the moment, around $4.4 Billion is wasted each year in unnecessary trips to the Emergency Room alone, a problem which is arguably contributing to high health insurance costs. Telemedicine reduces this problem by offering an at-home triage service, giving people instructions on whether or not a physical trip to the hospital will be necessary. What’s more, employers could save a massive $6 Billion each year by introducing telemedicine into their employee wellness schemes, keeping absences low with a healthier, well-tended-to workforce. As for the patients, reduced cost of travel and unpaid time off work will benefit individual bank accounts.
A Loss of Personal Touch?
It’s inevitable, like with all innovations, that telemedicine isn’t for everyone. Those less well acquainted with technology might feel fearful or suspicious of having their data handled over the phone or via an instant messaging service. Others might miss the personal touch of visiting a doctor or might withhold information over the phone that will have otherwise been disclosed in the private, safe space of a doctor’s office. But the opposite can also be true. Some patients might feel less inhibited talking about seemingly embarrassing health problems in the absence of face-to-face contact, thus increasing their likelihood to seek professional help in the first place.
The medical ethics, of course, should be considered in detail. Without one-to-one interaction, doctors could miss symptoms that have gone unnoticed by the patient, putting them at risk of diseases and conditions worsening. Furthermore, data storage and privacy will need to be stringently administered, ensuring patients feel just as comfortable talking about their problems from home as they do in a clinic without the risk of data loss or administrative errors. And, of course, patients should be empowered to know when telemedicine is appropriate and when emergency services need to intervene.
However, given the inevitable cost savings and studies so far indicating the great success of telemedicine, it is clear that this evolving medical innovation will be beneficial in enhancing access to good healthcare across America and beyond.
Article courtesy of Matthew Murray, Managing Director of Notable a B2B lead generation provider in Singapore. Notable helps companies connect with prospective clients looking for their services.