By Amy Miller, regional director of growth, AMD Global Telemedicine.
Fewer Americans were visiting primary care providers even before the pandemic.
According to a long-term study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the number of U.S. adults with a primary care physician slipped from 77% in 2002 to 75% in 2015. It’s a seemingly slight decline that nonetheless represents millions of patients. And due to the pandemic, fear of entering hospitals will continue exacerbating the issue, causing health systems to miss out on long-term revenue-building relationships. Fortunately, virtual care can fill in the gaps if healthcare organizations implement it appropriately.
COVID-19 made people cautious about nonessential in-person interactions, but it also encouraged them to try new technological solutions ranging from shopping for groceries online to telehealth visits with physicians. According to Kyruus’ “Patient Perspectives on Virtual Care Report,” 72% of patients surveyed tried virtual care for the first time during the pandemic, and more than 75% of them were “very satisfied.” In fact, nearly three-quarters of respondents want virtual care to be an option in the future, and half would switch providers to ensure they have that choice.
Taking Telehealth Further
The videoconference model of telehealth popularized during the pandemic has been incredibly effective at extending access to care, but it does have limitations. In particular, video-only virtual care doesn’t allow for the real-time transmission of diagnostic data from medical devices, including stethoscopes, EKGs, and ultrasounds. By offering virtual care models that integrate medical devices, physicians can diagnose and treat a wider variety of patients with more accuracy. Facilities can also extend care to treat and bill higher-acuity patients.
Patients and providers currently use telehealth primarily for one-off appointments, but organizations can leverage a more adaptable telehealth program across the care continuum and at multiple touchpoints. Achieving this goal will require health systems to view telehealth as a key part of care delivery instead of an exception. To embrace telehealth and reap the benefits of improved service quality and patient retention, healthcare leaders should follow three key steps: