3 Ways Telemedicine Can Help Alleviate the Physician Shortage
The entire healthcare community seems to be on edge about the national physician shortage. An article in the Annals of Family Medicine predicted that the nation will be short 52,000 physicians by 2025, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will give roughly 30 million Americans health insurance for the first time, further exacerbating the problem.
Even though it is important to focus on a long-term solution to the shortage, it is also paramount for hospitals and health systems to begin utilizing the current supply of physicians more efficiently. That's where telemedicine can play a part. "While the long-term solution to the physician shortage may involve making changes in our system of medical education, telemedicine has the promise to increase our provider capacity in the relatively immediate future," says Adam C. Powell, PhD, president of Payer+Provider Syndicate, a healthcare consulting company.
Dr. Powell says telemedicine can do the following three things to help hospitals overcome the physician shortage in the short term.
1. Increase physician utilization rate. A physician's time is very valuable, especially in light of the physician shortage. However, patients still cancel appointments, sometimes at the last minute, and leave physicians with extra time and no patients to see. "Telemedicine services are enabling physicians to make use of unused [time] so that they can treat more patients," says Dr. Powell. This allows hospitals across the country to reduce the size of the physician shortage by ensuring physicians are using their time effectively.
2. Provide access to specialists for rural hospitals. The physician shortage has, for the most part, hit rural hospitals earlier and harder than their urban counterparts. It can be difficult for rural hospitals to recruit and retain physicians, and it can also be difficult for them to provide their patient populations with physicians who can handle infrequently seen conditions. "By connecting these smaller institutions to large medical centers, telemedicine improves the quality of care that patients receive," says Dr. Powell.
3. Widen the pool of available physicians. Telemedicine does not only enable hospitals to connect with physicians across the country, it can spread the world over. "A number of specialties, including radiology and pathology, are amendable to international telemedicine," says Dr. Powell. Connecting patients with international physicians can empower hospitals to work with physicians that would otherwise be inaccessible, according to Dr. Powell. In this way, telemedicine increases the number of physicians available in the U.S., thus decreasing the effects of the national physician shortage.
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