Provider shortages across the country have made innovation in care delivery a necessity. Without a change in how patients access care, treatment deserts will continue to grow and specialty care will become even more sparse. The Association of American Medical College estimated a national shortage of up to 104,000 physicians by 2030.
As treatment technology evolves, care delivery has to change as well. Telemedicine is the most accessible form of innovation, and telehealth platforms like Mend have already made simple-to-use and easy-to-implement technology available throughout the world.
While one of the more valuable use cases of telehealth services is to deliver specialty services into areas where it is otherwise unavailable, the sheer convenience of telemedicine in Primary Care and Pediatrics has made it a game changer for patient retention and treatment of low-acuity complaints. Telemedicine makes treatment accessible and fast, and the visits usually take less time than in-person appointments. As primary care and pediatrics panels get larger, working with a telehealth platform offers an alternative to waiting days for an acute but non-emergent complaint. Virtual healthcare solutions can deliver treatment for rashes, upper respiratory infections, abrasions, colds, flus and other non-acute illnesses within minutes.
The access provided by digital healthcare means that patients can avoid the emergency room for non-emergent complaints. The ER is often a last resort for patients who were unable to secure time with their primary care, and it’s a much more expensive alternative that doesn’t offer continuity of care with their established physician. By working with a telehealth platform, providers can connect with patients prior to ER presentation and still secure some form of reimbursement for those services. Utilizing telemedicine in primary care can both reduce ER utilization and unpaid after hours phone calls.
The physician shortage is most evident in medical and surgical specialties, and it is expected to grow at an astounding rate over the next 12 years. It’s estimated that there will be a shortage of up to 62,000 providers as currently practicing physicians retire and fewer students enter medical school.
Telehealth services can significantly bridge these gaps by encouraging specialty consults without travel for the patient or the physician. Transportation is a growing barrier to treatment as areas suffer from lack of specialty care and public transportation options shrink in many areas throughout the country. Using a platform like Mend, physicians and patients can connect regardless of location with just a few taps on low-cost technology like tablets and laptops. Virtual healthcare is a valuable asset that can be implemented with limited upfront technology costs for patients and providers. Hospitals are not required to purchase large, costly carts to engage in telemedicine, and solutions that were previously cost-prohibitive in an outpatient setting become entirely attainable. What previously required a $100,000 electronic set up can now be achieved with the combination of a 429 tablet, the appropriate telemedicine platform and an Internet connection.
As the demand for care grows and the number of providers shrink, telehealth services can be the key to extending care to underserved populations and ensuring patients receive the complete continuum of care. Telemedicine reduces costs, extends the physician patient relationship and solves some of the largest dilemmas physicians and patients face in the years to come. Though there were once considerable barriers to telehealth including limited access to technology, poor proliferation of high-speed internet and low patient/provider buy-in, these barriers have largely disappeared. The technology can be inexpensive and the return is considerable for all stakeholders.