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  • Writer's pictureMark Roberts

Doc Around the Clock!

Have you ever had a tough time making an appointment with the doctor when you really need it? I'm talking about when you get sick, and you have to see a physician right now. Unfortunately, many of those times happen on the weekend, at night or a holiday. Do you tough it up and wait? Do you go to urgent care? What about going to the emergency room at a local hospital? What if you're out of town traveling on vacation or business?

Certainly, if you are experiencing a medical issue that can't be postponed, the ER or urgent care are your best options. Even when you call the doctor's office, you typically hear a recorded message that says, "If you are experiencing a medical emergency, hang up and dial 911." In that case, you need to take action right away to save your life or that of someone who is depending on you for their healthcare needs, like a child, aging parent, a roommate or a friend, or another person close to you.

However, in non-emergency situations, you might just need a prescription or a simple consultation that can treat your condition and send you on your way. In those instances, talking with a physician by phone or video chat (simply known as telemedicine) is a very convenient and cost efficient way to manage your healthcare. Although not a new product, until recently its relevance in the care management of illness was somewhat less important than most individuals were aware.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine skyrocketed in 2020 and 2021. Utilization was through the roof in many cases as the disease spread among the population like wildfire. The healthcare system strained and stressed in appropriate response. The problem for private medical practices was less about emergency care and more about how to continue providing services for patients when clinic doors were shuttered all of a sudden to in-person routine visits. Even hospitals were maxed out for a time with mortality rates climbing higher and higher during its peak.

Telemedicine is getting huge attention now also as a way to lower employee health care costs. According to the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), telemedicine is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve patients' health status. The ATA says telemedicine has been growing rapidly because it offers three fundamental benefits:

  • Improved Access – For over 40 years, telemedicine has been used to bring healthcare services to patients in distant locations. Not only does telemedicine improve access to patients, but it also allows physicians and health facilities to expand their reach beyond their own offices.

  • Cost Efficiencies - Reducing or containing the cost of healthcare is one of the most important reasons for funding and adopting telehealth technologies. Telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of healthcare and increase efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times and fewer or shorter hospital stays.

  • Patient Demand - Consumers want telemedicine. The greatest impact of telemedicine is on the patient, their family and their community. Using telemedicine technologies reduces travel time and related stresses to the patient. Over the past 20 years, study after study has documented patient satisfaction and support for telehealth services. Such services offer patients the access to providers that might not be available otherwise as well as medical services without the need to travel long distances.

Employers can definitely benefit from providing a telemedicine product to employees to control costs. If a self-funded employer group may be paying claims, telemedicine can serve as a tremendous cost savings to the company even as a non-voluntary offering to employees. Imagine not having to reimburse a doctor for the expense of an office visit, and your employee doesn’t have to miss half of his work day waiting to talk to a physician about getting a prescription. Reducing the rate of employee absenteeism is a big win for both labor and management. What employer wouldn’t jump at this way to save on health care expenses, especially if there are hundreds or thousands of employees?

Telemedicine has measurable cost effective results and the ability to transfer lifesaving data during critical needs diagnosis. Those companies and professionals who make the best use of telemedicine for their practices should see more efficiency on a clinical basis as well as increased profitability and return on investments. Patients who learn how to access telemedicine points of service have the ability to increase options to manage their health care and are able to save money and time. Even if you already have health insurance, imagine how much extra time and money consumers can save if they used telemedicine.

There is research that supports a role for telemedicine in both acute care and chronic disease management, suggesting that it is non-inferior to in-person care for health outcomes in certain conditions. Examples include uncomplicated upper respiratory tract infection, urinary tract infection, low-back pain, initial dermatologic concerns (with the help of high-definition photography), and chronic disease management (with the strongest evidence to date being for diabetes care). Telemedicine may also decrease, or at least not add to, short-term hospital and emergency department utilization.

Telemedicine is definitely a winning concept for everyone. Individual consumers, employers, medical providers and families would all win as well. Healthcare organizations win by speeding up patient engagement and better outcomes as well as reducing costs. All stakeholders in the healthcare continuum gain a competitive advantage when this product is successfully engaged.

Even the federal government is acutely aware of the efficacies of using telemedicine. According to the National Library of Medicine, the utilization of this product during the pandemic heightened awareness to consumers. Although there are definitely pros and cons to its use, the government has acknowledged that telemedicine as a healthcare tool is well received by the public and is not going away any time soon. One of the primary questions remaining is how to expand its access to seniors, to less affluent families and to those living in more rural areas.

Whether you are an individual or an employer, you need to have access to physicians around the clock. Telemedicine is the tool to accomplish this goal. I have affordable options available to families and companies. More information is available on this website. Contact me to have a conversation about how you can benefit from this telephonic benefit.

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