Why do some within the healthcare industry still resist telehealth?

By Jamie Frew on Feb 29, 2024.

Fact Checked by Ericka Pingol.

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What is telemedicine?

Within the broad area of telehealth, telemedicine refers to remote clinical services that deliver health solutions to patients. There are various benefits of telemedicine, resulting in over 2 million new US users using its services in the past few months. Quite simply, telemedicine is revolutionizing the way we work within the mental healthcare space and allows clients to be able to comfortably receive treatment from the safety and privacy of their own homes. Patients can now communicate with their healthcare professionals by clicking a button through online video calling, conferencing, and messaging. Its innovative technology allows for treatment plans that cater to various needs and prioritizes every patient's health goals.

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Benefits of telehealth for providers

There are multiple immense benefits of telehealth for providers, as well as for their clients. Some advantages of telemedicine include:

  1. Reduced costs - Using telemedicine for healthcare practices means reduced administrative and overhead costs for practitioners. This is in addition to patients, where telemedicine can eliminate the need for childcare costs since their services can all be conducted at home. 
  2. Minimized COVID risk - Practitioners can prioritize the health of their staff and patients by using distanced services that remove the need for physical contact. This significantly reduces the risk of germs and illnesses spreading, which is vital during these times of a global pandemic. 
  3. Increased accessibility - Isolated individuals in rural areas and communities who struggle to access healthcare can now be treated with telemedicine. Online services mean there is a broader reach for practitioners and ensuring patients receive specialist care. 
  4. Workflow efficiency - Telemedicine provides a place for practitioners to make clinical notes and documentation, in addition to having a place to schedule appointments. This is as well as communicating with patients, which is all super convenient for healthcare practices to access these features in one place. 

Why is telehealth not as widespread as it should be?

Despite its efficiency and ability to address patient engagement issues, telehealth is still not as widespread as it should be due to three main reasons, with the first being quality. Visiting patients virtually means that there are some differences when compared to in-person care. Some argue there is a sense of depersonalization in the patient-to-practitioner relationship with the inability to engage with the patient physically. The lack of therapeutic closeness could result in missed details and a drop in the quality of treatment. However, this doesn't have to be true. With the proper measurement techniques and maintenance of high clinical standards, virtual treatment can be just as effective, if not more. For example, isolated populations can forge much deeper connections with individuals due to their accessibility advantage. 

There is also the ethical issue of needing to prioritize the safety and privacy of patients. This is in addition to having affordable costs, so access doesn't become a prominent issue for both patients and practitioners. However, with the right platform, these concerns can be significantly alleviated. Many telehealth platforms provide bank-level encryption within their software to ensure the highest security of patient data and often provide treatment plans at varying costs for different clients. 

Telehealth also isn't as widespread due to the reimbursement issue, where many healthcare providers need to know that they will be paid for their chosen online delivery method. This is across different payers, and there is a high demand for more coverage for online services as they would for in-person treatment facilities. While this is an issue, there is growing attention towards the telehealth community to resolve this, with over 31 US states now implementing payment mandates. 

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Barriers to telehealth adoption

As touched on, some unfortunate barriers prevent telehealth adoption. While there are certainly telehealth benefits, various challenges still pose an issue to its use. 

What are the challenges of telehealth?

There are various challenges to telehealth solutions, including:

  • Cost of implementation - It can be costly to implement telehealth solutions due to substantial knowledge needed in areas concerning its infrastructure. Various platforms offer different plans, and many do not provide a range of essential features. It can be even more costly to combine multiple platforms to meet healthcare practice needs. 
  • Lack of physical interaction - It can be challenging to conduct examinations through online distancing services for some testing. This means outcomes may be different from what would occur for in-person consultations. 
  • Patient privacy - While most telehealth providers and services provide top-end encryption and security processes when dealing with online data, it is still possible to be leaked. Considering telehealth deals with sensitive patient information, this occurrence could prove harmful.
  • Medical liability ambiguity - When it comes to telehealth standard of care because it is a vastly different process, guidelines and regulations regarding this subject are not always clear. This makes it difficult to ensure compliance at times. 
  • Reimbursement - Many healthcare providers do not have the coverage of costs as they would for in-person services. 

Barriers to telehealth in rural areas

There are also barriers to telehealth in rural areas, which may include some of the following:

  • Limited device access - In rural areas, there is a higher likelihood of clients not having access to mobile devices or laptops with sufficient software installed to handle telehealth services. 
  • Limited high-speed internet access - Having high-speed broadband in rural areas is a more prominent barrier than clients living in urban areas. A 2018 report states that potentially 30% of rural residents do not have access to it. 
  • Sustainability and engagement issues - Telehealth programs in rural areas with low patient volumes can encounter issues with engaging with specialists when their demand is very sporadic. 
  • Interoperability concerns - Electronic health information exchange across various rural healthcare providers can be difficult to ensure data is safe and secure. This can be problematic when needing access to medical health records. 

How to avoid the common pitfalls of telehealth?

While there are evident and valid concerns with telehealth, this is not to say their services aren't worthwhile. There are numerous ways to overcome telehealth's barriers and ensure the benefits of telemedicine for patients are seen. 

Telehealth can be made easier for clients to access by providing troubleshooting support and scheduling sessions to demonstrate to patients how to use the software. This is as well as implementing seamless workflow designs with user-friendly interfaces, so the services become more accessible. Part of this process may include incorporating patient portals to support client engagement, which allows for more opportunities for patients to understand their medical records. 

On the clinician side of things, avoiding unnecessary extra work can mean more time responding to patient needs and providing them with the best care. This includes allowing for multiple channels to receive requests and messages, with automatic scheduling and reminder systems and various other operational considerations. Within this digital landscape, clinicians also need to ensure a high degree of interoperability so healthcare solutions can be streamlined and have easy navigation. It should be easy to work between teams to send, receive, and access clinical documents and healthcare data. 

Broadband providers can also be more widely supplied, eliminating cost-sharing and more incentivization of telehealth services. Focusing on service and payment parity across all healthcare insurers would also increase access for patients and practitioners to transition to telehealth services. Investment into telehealth programs would reduce restrictions and accommodate the demands of telehealth services, especially during pandemic times.

Opportunities for telehealth beyond a pandemic

While telehealth has been immensely useful for the global pandemic in providing distanced services, they have also proven immeasurable value for healthcare services beyond this environment. 

Telehealth can be accessed on just about any smart device, which can monitor and track patient health more closely than in-person consultations ever could. Further developments in devices and technology mean that this capacity will only continue to expand. Its digital nature also means healthcare personnel in-person services can be used for those who truly need it. With patient data encrypted to a high level, with platforms such as Carepatron, privacy and security concerns are even less with virtual services. More importantly, telehealth's ability to access rural communities is an asset that can be applied to an international scale and is beneficial to those who are isolated. 

Telehealth seems to be the way of the future, and limiting it to a pandemic is doing a great disservice to the many advantages it offers. For the best patient care, telehealth is a viable and deserving option considered for your healthcare practice

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