Telehealth has been the subject of great debate over the last decade or more. For the most part, among the various opinions and perceptions about Telehealth – what was missing from the conversation was a driving use case. It could be said that the global coronavirus pandemic is that use case, as Telehealth is a viable option to treat more patients, at a safe distance. But the subject of Telehealth is still mired with misconceptions that continue to stunt its adoption. In this blog, we unpack the 7 biggest misconceptions holding practices back.
1. Telehealth is not cost-effective
Think about how much time you have spent on uncompensated after-hours calls to patients. All these calls can be reimbursed as Telehealth visits. Not only is Telehealth a cost-effective way to deliver health services, but it can actually help grow your revenue. Telehealth gives you the ability to reach patient populations in spite of barriers such as age, proximity to your practice, or illness.
Elderly or rural patients, chronic, terminal, or high-risk patients can all be reached (and helped) by way of Telehealth. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 43% of South Africa’s population lives in rural regions, with just one physician responsible for 7,700 people. But Telehealth has the potential to truly make healthcare accessible to many more people, as technology evolves.
2. You can’t complete a thorough examination and give an accurate diagnosis with Telehealth
A Future Health Index (FHI) report found that a third of South African healthcare professionals say that their patients’ experience has been positively impacted by Telehealth in the last five years. Not only that but it’s been found that certain types of consultations lend themselves very well to the use of Telehealth. And with the evolution of technology itself, we can expect that doubts around how to complete a thorough examination will diminish rapidly.
The report also reflects what Healthbridge data indicates – there is an increasing number of healthcare professionals using technologies such as electronic medical records (EMRs) and Telehealth. These engaged and digitally-enabled healthcare professionals report better patient outcomes and higher job satisfaction.
3. Patients only want Telehealth for urgent care visits
We live in a time-poor society and according to a Future Health Index (FHI) report, time was the primary reason that patients were discouraged from scheduling appointments with doctors. Other than not having enough time to make an appointment, long waiting times to see the primary care provider and even longer waiting times to see specialists have been reported as barriers to patient care.
Telehealth can be leveraged to address the expanding lack of time available to see a doctor, as Telehealth enables patients to be treated from anywhere, anytime.
4. Telehealth is not secure
Part of the resistance to Telehealth is the misconception that it is unsafe to communicate and store sensitive patient information digitally. But the likelihood of a security breach is much higher for paper files and local server-based systems. Have the conversation with your technology partner about their encryption and security measures in place to safeguard your practice information.
5. Seeing patients virtually will weaken the doctor-patient relationship
Telehealth or “the remote access to and management of health” can quite literally bridge the gap for the 74% of South Africans who did not visit a healthcare professional when they had a medical reason to go1. Not only does it support greater access to care, but it enhances the patient experience – as talked about previously when it comes to waiting times.
Interestingly, research has also shown that the physical distance and ‘barrier’ of a screen during a Telehealth consult can actually encourage patients to be more honest with their doctor about their concerns and lifestyle habits. This alone improves patient outcomes when doctors have more reliable information into a patient’s health.
In addition to greater access generally, and more open dialogue – Telehealth also offers doctors the opportunity to see patients more often. By reducing the barriers we’ve already discussed, follow up appointments and check-ups are much more likely to take place and strengthen communication between doctors and patients.
It is a myth that physical presence is a non-negotiable aspect to the effective treatment of patients. If anything, Telehealth has emerged strongly as an untapped tool for healthcare professionals.
6. Implementing Telehealth raises the risk of malpractice lawsuits
On the contrary, Telehealth can actually decrease your risk of malpractice as Telehealth is much easier for doing frequent check-ins and follow up appointments to be sure patients are sticking to their treatment plan.
To help you understand how to implement Telehelath effectively, we’ve created this eGuide: Telehealth: The ultimate guide to buying, implementing & maximising revenue.
7. Telehealth is just for rural areas
It is widely known that Telehealth is effective in breaking down geographical barriers and increasing access to care for rural and remote dwellers. However, there are plenty of scenarios where urban dwellers are just as far away from care both from a convenience perspective (proximity to a medical practice during office hours) or due to debilitating factors such as mental illness, physical disability, post-operation, or simply because of the flu.
Attending appointments can also be very time consuming for the average urban dweller, due to the unreliability of public transport, traffic, long wait times, or simply conflicting appointments, as often happens for families. Simple healthcare ‘transactions’ such as renewing prescriptions, referrals to other providers, issuing medical certificates for missed work or exams, or communicating pathology results are all conducive to the use of Telehealth. But Telehealth is not limited to routine care – more complex care requirements like access to and monitoring mental health treatment, or coordination with allied health professionals can be carried out by Telehealth and specifically video consultations. This not only lends itself to realising better patient outcomes, but allows patients to attend a scheduled session from the comfort of their own home and/or after hours.
How are you tapping into Telehealth to realise its benefits for your patients, your practice and yourself as a practitioner? If you still have doubts about Telehealth, it’s safety or viability, speak to your trusted technology partner about your concerns. Telehealth as a tool has evolved past the speculation and process immaturity that once debunked its possibilities.
Healthbridge offers you a fresh perspective on how to effectively leverage a user-friendly Telehealth tool for the good of your patients and beyond. Click here to access our eGuide that provides checklists and decisions that need to be considered to successfully implement telehealth in your practice. Alternatively, click here to get in touch with one of our skilled Business Consultants to explore implementing Telehealth at your practice.
1. Philips.co.za. 2020. [online] https://www.philips.co.za/c-dam/corporate/newscenter/za/2019/2019-fhi-report-south-Africa.pdf> [Accessed 9 July 2020]
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