The Pros and Cons of Telemedicine
Pros and cons. Assets and liabilities. Positives and negatives. Almost every product or service we as consumers use has some advantages and disadvantages, even if it’s one of our favorites.
Chocolate and peanut butter ice cream might be your top food choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s a healthful option. Likewise, buying the car of your dreams might provide you with enjoyment, but you still have to properly maintain it if you want it to last more than a few years.
Though not in the same category as those items, the use of telemedicine in the healthcare industry has both benefits and drawbacks. In this blog, we’ll list some of those variances and explain how telemedicine is different from telehealth. First, though, let’s define telemedicine.
Used to describe providing medical care at a distance by using telecommunications technology, telemedicine has multiple uses, including allowing physicians to
- Assess whether or not the patient needs treatment in person
- Provide certain kinds of medical care, such as mental health treatment and assessments for minor infections
- Write or renew prescriptions
- Offer certain types of therapy, such as speech and physical therapy
Telemedicine, a subset of telehealth, varies in that it more narrowly refers to remote clinical services using technologies such as videoconferencing and remote patient monitoring. Telehealth consists of basic telecommunication tools, such as phone calls, text messages, patient portals and emails that allow patients to communicate with their providers.
No matter how you define it, telemedicine use skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic and is now employed by almost half of all United States physicians to treat patients. About 76 percent of U.S. hospitals now connect with patients and consulting practitioners using telemedicine solutions, and most large employer plans cover at least some telemedicine services.
Although use of telemedicine has slowed down some as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States has waned, it’s still a popular option for many healthcare providers. McKinsey & Company noted that 57 percent of providers say they now view telemedicine more favorably than before the pandemic, while 64 report being more comfortable using the technology.
More patients are utilizing telemedicine, too. Between March 30 and April 11, 2022, approximately 20 percent of adults aged 18 and over had a telemedicine appointment with a healthcare professional.
The Good News
Let’s start with the obvious: telemedicine allows patients to access care in the comfort and privacy of their own homes and avoid a lengthy waiting time in the doctor’s office before their appointment. Avoiding practice waiting rooms is a big factor for individuals who are trying especially hard to avoid germs and the spread of infectious diseases.
This convenience doesn’t have to affect a provider’s level of care, though. Patients have reported that their concerns were resolved 85 percent of the time through telemedicine visits compared to 64 percent for in-office appointments.
Meeting patients where they are is an essential component of healthcare consumerism, and telemedicine achieves that. As one study noted, 74 percent of patients prefer easy access to healthcare services over in-person appointments.
Is telemedicine more work than it’s worth for healthcare providers, though? Not if the technology platform they’re using makes connecting with patients remotely easier and reduces the cost of care. The ROI of telemedicine comes in the form of reduced overhead, fewer patient no-shows and cancellations, a decrease in unnecessary emergency department visits, the acquisition of new patients and the retention of current ones through increased patient engagement.
Telemedicine is an especially valuable option for residents of rural areas of the U.S. who often face numerous barriers to healthcare. There’s a shortage of providers in many of these regions, and some patients have to travel hours to see a specialist, which is not only inconvenient but also often costly.
But wait, there’s more! Additional advantages of telemedicine include:
- Ability to get an appointment sooner
- Mitigation of stigma associated with mental health treatment
- Enhanced communication between providers
- Easier transmission of readings from at-home monitoring tools
- Expanded support of provider-to-provider training
- Reduction in follow-up visits
The Not So Good News
Again, even the best-designed products aren’t perfect. That’s especially true when it comes to technology.
Telemedicine typically requires medical practices to invest in new equipment and/or software and train staff members on how to use it. A bad connection or some other technical glitch can doom a telemedicine interaction before it even starts.
Not all individuals seeking medical care through telemedicine have access to the internet. There are lower rates of technology and broadband found in homes with older adults, ethnic and racial minorities and those on the lower end of socioeconomic status. One study of telemedicine appointments among lower-income patients found that most of them were done over the phone, negating many of the technology’s benefits.
Another negative of telemedicine is that it in no way can replace a physical exam, which sometimes is needed to diagnose a patient. Imaging tests, bloodwork and most preventive screenings can’t be done remotely. The result is reduced care continuity along with the possibility of delayed treatment.
Combining Telemedicine With Other Digital Health Tools
Using telemedicine as part of a hybrid care model meets consumer demand to minimize time spent in the provider’s office. It provides a more personalized, flexible and seamless patient journey, improving both the in-person experience as well as giving patients more autonomy over their own care.
At Epion Health, our platform helps you deliver care that’s secure and reliable while meeting your patients’ needs for an experience that’s personal and intuitive. An important component of that platform, Epion Telehealth, connects and engages patients across all devices—desktop, tablet and smartphone—making routine visits easy, convenient, accessible and satisfying. Learn more by scheduling a meeting with a member of our talented team!