Tackle costly patient wait times through telehealth

Direct healthcare delivery costs, such as those associated with physician services, medications and hospital stays, are vigorously researched and reported. Less is known about the indirect costs associated with healthcare. One recent study, however, sheds light on that crucial, lesser explored economic challenge.

Results of the academic study found the time patients spent traveling to and from their provider’s office and in the waiting area consumes 121 minutes of the patient’s time, including 37 minutes in travel and 84 minutes in the waiting and exam rooms. Authors calculated that all of this time costs each patient $43 in addition to the medical costs.1

These patient financial pressures are affecting provider organizations. Many organizations are implementing telehealth services to treat patients at home or at their workplace to increase employee productivity, reduce absenteeism and decrease recovery times. Not only can patients receive care more promptly through telehealth, but leading web conferencing platforms offer features to improve the patient experience, including wait times.

Patient access affects experience
In earlier generations, a full waiting room was an indication of a successful hospital or practice. The growth of healthcare consumerism has changed that perception. In fact, 61 percent of participants in the Medical Group Management Association’s 2016 Practice Operations Report have implemented steps to decrease wait times.2 These findings, the group pointed out, echo the results from an April 2016 text-message based poll of more than 100 health professionals, which found more than 80 percent of respondents changed or were in the process of changing processes to improve patient access.

Survey data showed that 26 percent of practices are open on Saturdays and 11 percent are open on Sundays to improve patient access. Practices also analyzed data surrounding first available appointment times, call volumes and responsiveness, appointment length, appointment slots per day and same-day appointments percentage.

Offering telehealth services can enhance all of these patient access improvement efforts at potentially a lower cost to the practice or health system. Organizations do not need to open a facility to deliver care through telehealth, which means fewer employees are required. With the right platform and access to other health IT tools, physicians may not even need to leave their home to deliver care.

Improving workflow efficiency to reduce wait times
Another challenge associated with improving the in-office patient experience is that physicians often do not know how long patients have been waiting. This lack of transparency puts greater pressure on physicians and other providers, who may feel they have to rush through an appointment to stay on schedule, even though they may not be running late.

Telehealth can help avoid hurried workflow conditions. Delivering care online eliminates the need to walk to different exam rooms while stopping at a computer workstation in between to review patient information.

Advanced telehealth web conferencing platforms offer a waiting room feature that lists patients waiting for care while a running clock counts their wait times. Patients on the other end of the telehealth encounter receive a customized in-waiting message to let them know that the physician will see them shortly. Although wait times are often quite brief with telehealth, the experience is less frustrating for the patient because they are typically at home and can pursue other activities in proximity to their computer.

Workflow efficiency is also enhanced through telehealth if the technology is cloud-based. This means physicians typically only need a web browser and secure log-in to begin delivering care. The ability to share test and imaging results over the cloud-based platform enhances efficiency, as well. For example, in an in-office encounter, a physician may occasionally need to exit the exam room to retrieve such results, which unnecessarily extends appointment time and wait times for other patients.

Advanced technology enhances experience
The patient telehealth experience is comprised of more than just wait times. A simple, intuitive interface on the web conferencing platform can ensure that the technology is not distracting from the clinical encounter on the patient or the provider side.

High-definition video and audio through the web conferencing platform can more closely simulate an in-office experience. The higher fidelity video and sound helps physicians take advantage of their observational and listening skills. As all providers know, non-verbal communication is often as important to clinical decision making as what patients tell them.

These features, the ubiquity of high-speed internet access, combined with the enhanced care access telehealth offers clearly demonstrates that now is the time to offer these services to patients. To maximize efficiency and a positive patient experience, choosing the right telehealth web conferencing platform is essential.

About the author:
Gary Sibley is vice president at Brother. With more than 20 years of experience in leading-edge collaboration technologies, Sibley supports OmniJoin, the company’s web conferencing service with a growing healthcare segment.

1 “Opportunity Costs of Ambulatory Medical Care in the United States,” AJMC.com, accessible at http://www.ajmc.com/journals/issue/2015/2015-vol21-n8/Opportunity-Costs-of-Ambulatory-Medical-Care-in-the-United-States
2 MGMA 2016 Practice Operations Report, accessible at: http://www.mgma.com/industry-data/mgma-surveys-reports/practice-operations-data. Reprinted with permission from MGMA, 104 Inverness Terrace East, Englewood, CO 877.275-6462. www.mgma.org (c) 2016.

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