How telehealth will transform healthcare

Convenience. Access. Transparency. Trust. These are not words we commonly associated with healthcare, but that’s about to change.

We buy cars, insurance, houses, entertainment, and even arrange dates online, on our own terms – with more transparency, more immediacy, and more convenience made possible by a combination of technology and business strategies which are deliberately structured to put customers first.

And yet when it comes to healthcare, customers seem to rank last. Transactions are mired in a swamp of hazy information and an abundance of confusion. We wait months to see a doctor; even longer for a specialist. And when you or someone in your family is sick, it requires rearranging your entire schedule to get immediate care.

It’s time to turn healthcare into a system that delivers care and services in a way that makes sense for patients. We need to move forward by introducing accessibility, transparency, and trust into the process – all of which today’s technology, and telehealth, can offer.

Access
The average time to see a doctor in the United States is 24 days, up 30% from just two years ago. As a result of these increasingly frustrating delays, patients are turning to urgent care facilities and even the emergency room for immediate care. And for many people who live in rural areas, seeing a specialist can mean spending a full day driving to and from the nearest city. This seems absurd when you can order just about anything today online and get it delivered to your door in mere days – or even hours.

We should be able to access healthcare services when and where we need them, and today’s technology now lets us do so. Video chatting has become the norm, and new sensor technology has made it possible to conduct medical exams such as listening to and recording heart sounds, lung sounds, heart rate, temperature, and videos of the skin, throat and ears from home. We can now digitally send blood oxygen levels, glucose levels, and blood pressure readings to a doctor for review and diagnosis, instantly and discreetly. And more is still to come. There will always be a reason to see the doctor in person, but technology can now reduce the need for in-person visits significantly. There are close to a billion in-person doctor visits a year in the U.S., and it is estimated that half of these visits could be conducted using a remote exam telehealth solution.

Transparency
Even as healthcare becomes more accessible, it still lacks transparency. Today, when we go to the doctor, it’s not always clear what the visit will cost until the bill arrives long after the appointment, detailing how much of the cost insurance will cover. And connecting directly with a doctor to receive results and information about previously conducted tests is often difficult, sometimes even requiring yet another in-person visit.

Digital health technology helps streamline the entire healthcare process, from choosing your doctor, to calculating procedure costs, to obtaining results and accessing your health records. Knowing ahead of time which primary care physician or specialist you’ll be seeing takes the confusion and mystery out of the process and puts control into patients’ hands. Choice is power, and it may even have health benefits: research has shown that patients’ health improves when they have confidence in and are satisfied with their doctors.

Trust
As with any service new to the market, some consumers are greeting digital health services warily, unconvinced that technological tools can take the place of metal stethoscopes and wooden tongue depressors. This is to be expected, especially when people are so accustomed to in-person clinical visits. The shift is similar to the mental adjustments that people had to make when online flight booking became available as an alternative to human travel agents. Initially, people researched fares online but still called to book their tickets. Over time, they became more comfortable with online booking until it became the norm. It may take some time, but the shift will happen.

To ease these legitimate concerns, digital health innovators need to create and promote tools that can offer the same quality of care as in-person exams. Telehealth solutions, for example, are already going above and beyond simple video-calling. Today, they can fully replicate in-person patient examinations at home with clinic-quality tools which do not sacrifice any quality or conventional integrity, and which provide the added conveniences of on-demand accessibility and transparency.

Trust will also come more readily when the physician on the other end of the telehealth session is your own doctor who knows your health history and with whom you have built rapport. For this to happen, telehealth solutions need to be turnkey and easy to implement so more providers can offer it to their patients. And in turn, more physicians need to embrace telehealth and see it as a way to provide more convenient, on-demand, and timely care for their patients while improving and growing their practice.

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Today’s technology can provide much more than what we’re currently experiencing in healthcare, with even better benefits. By enabling patient care from the comfort of home, without sacrificing quality or the relationship between patient and physician, telehealth is revolutionizing healthcare and putting it in the hands of consumers using the values of access, transparency, and trust as its lynchpins. The technology is at our fingertips – now is the time to start putting it to use.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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