According to a McKinsey & Company study, telemedicine adoption was 38 times higher during the COVID-19 pandemic than before. While most provider practices have returned to in-person appointments, many continue to offer this type of care as an option for vulnerable patients or for those requesting a virtual appointment. However, telehealth in the post-pandemic era brings great opportunities and challenges that must be leveraged to its advantage.
Now that telehealth is up and running and patients have embraced it, it’s time to think about ways to use technology to address long-standing issues in our continuum of care. So here are four things we believe you should be implementing to make the most of telemedicine, as they can have the biggest impact right now.
Telemedicine is invaluable as a way to connect home care patients with their physicians from the safety of the patient’s home. Video allows physicians to identify visual cues that might indicate the need for an intervention or for the patient to be seen in a consultation. It can also reduce the need to go to the doctor’s office for things that can be treated virtually.
However, one of the opportunities that telehealth offers in post-pandemic times is that physicians can use teleconsultations to better prepare for a home visit. This means they can spend less time gathering information once they arrive at the patient’s home and more time treating the patient. Because appointments are more efficient, physicians can see more patients or spend more time on preparation or other tasks related to the consultation.
Using telehealth for home care patients also gives patients and their families peace of mind knowing that help is always at hand. As well as helping to improve patient satisfaction by making physicians more accessible.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many deficiencies in our healthcare system. One of them concerns psychiatric care, namely the lack of access. According to WHO (World Health Organization) reports, 450 million people worldwide are suffering from psychiatric people worldwide are affected by a mental health problem that severely hinders their lives, however, and between 35% and 50% receive no or inadequate treatment.
The problem grew exponentially during the pandemic, as social distancing mandates were established and in-person support groups were abruptly discontinued. The stress caused by social isolation, loss of income, and fear of becoming infected increased the impact on many people’s mental health, and that impact will not magically disappear once the pandemic is gone. The need was great before the pandemic, and it is even greater now.
Now that mental health providers have implemented telehealth they can use it on an ongoing basis to ease access issues. Patients can be evaluated, triaged, diagnosed, and treated without having to come to the office. This ensures that patients receive the right treatment from the right provider sooner. For those who do not have access to transportation to the office or to treatment, or for those who live in areas with few mental health resources, telemedicine helps fill the gap.
Remote patient monitoring
Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities for using telehealth in post-pandemic times is to improve our continuum of care through remote patient monitoring. Two of the main areas of benefit are post-discharge care and chronic disease management.
When patients are discharged from the hospital or emergency department, they are usually instructed to contact their primary care physician or a specialist. They may leave with a prescription for medication and educational information about caring for their illness at home.
However, a study published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (PHRQ) found that nearly 20% of patients experience some type of adverse event in just the first three weeks after discharge, and most of these are preventable. The same study found that other “discharge hazards” came from patients who were discharged while test results were pending, or who were discharged needing outpatient “diagnostic follow-up.” Telehealth can solve all of these problems by giving hospitals, specialists, and primary care physicians the tools they need to remotely monitor these patients in the critical days following discharge.
Chronic disease management
Our population is getting sicker. According to the CDC, 51.8% of adults have at least one chronic disease and 27.2% have two or more. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are two of the most prolific, and both require regular care, monitoring, and medication adherence to avoid adverse events. Research shows that half of the patients with cardiovascular disease do not take their prescribed medication.
Other studies have revealed that patients with diabetic foot ulcers make an average of 14 outpatient visits and 1.5 hospitalizations per year. Remote monitoring of patients through telemedicine and devices such as blood pressure cuffs, home electrocardiogram devices, blood glucose measurement devices, and sensory insoles allow providers to proactively identify problems to avoid complications and hospitalizations.
Many providers have avoided implementing programs such as chronic care management (CCM) and remote patient monitoring (RPM) because they felt the effort of doing so outweighed the reward. Now that post-pandemic telemedicine processes are in place, much of that effort has been eliminated.
Another advantage is that care can be provided by clinicians other than physicians, which helps reduce the additional time pressure on physicians.
During the peak of COVID-19, long-term care facilities were closed. Telehealth allowed physicians the ability to assess, triage, and guide care without the need for an in-person visit to the facility. Leveraging telehealth in post-pandemic times may give long-term care facilities the ability to provide more timely care through Vidyo, without patients having to wait for scheduled clinic visits.
At a time when staffing shortages abound, telehealth can fill the gap and ensure that long-term care facilities can continue to provide consistent, high-quality care.
The way forward
According to a study published by AHRQ, telehealth can deliver outcomes “as good as or better than usual care” for specific populations. The evidence focused on “remote home monitoring of patients with chronic diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.” It also included counseling patients about their chronic diseases, as well as psychotherapy for mental health patients.
So what is there to leave behind?
The only thing to leave behind is to see telemedicine as a thing of the past. Telemedicine in the post-pandemic era is just as important as before. Arguably even more so, as patients have discovered a new way to access services without making as much effort as with face-to-face visits. So they probably don’t want to give it up. And although telemedicine does not replace on-site consultations 100%, it has become a fundamental complement.
In conclusion, telemedicine in the post-pandemic era continues to work and offers many opportunities to improve services and optimize both economic and human resources, which is why it is important to have defined processes. We must take advantage of this opportunity to achieve real and lasting improvements in the health of our populations.