Did you know that Telehealth has roots that trace back to 1879?
While most people didn’t know it as “Telehealth” immediately, its perceived purpose was to reduce unnecessary office visits. As Telehealth developed, new regulations were slowly introduced to improve quality standards. Fast forward to 2020, COVID-19 made Telehealth more relevant than ever as the demand for quality health care increased even when safety protocols kept in-office visits to a minimum.
Unsurprisingly, the CDC report showed a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the pandemic’s first few months. However, that doesn’t mean Telehealth didn’t encounter challenges. Many states have imposed restrictions prohibiting doctors from seeing patients who live outside the state indicated in their license. Still, research by JAMA revealed that 5% of 8 million Telehealth sessions in the first half of 2021 were attended by OOS or out-of-state doctors. Furthermore, researchers have also observed that 62.8% of these Telehealth visits were of patients previously seen by an OOS doctor as early as March 2019.
Let’s dive deeper into how eased restrictions can make Telehealth more effective, seamless, and impactful.
Access to Specialty Care
Both in and out-of-state Telehealth sessions have the same demand for general conditions, but the latter contains more specialty care patients. Generally, patients have one primary care physician or PCP, particularly for specialties like oncology and hematology, as it promotes familiarity and saves time for both doctor and patient. With eased Telehealth restrictions in place, patients would easily have access to specialty care if they are in a different state than their PCP.
Consistent with accessibility, eased Telehealth restrictions can also make it easier for patients to “see” a doctor if they live in rural areas with a relatively low number of physicians. Moreover, a study also found that 33% of Medicare beneficiaries who had a Telehealth session lived within 15 miles of a state border. Harvard Medical School professor Ateev Mehrotra, MD, explains –
“If you’re in DC and need a cardiologist, you don’t think, ‘I’ll stay in DC.’ No, Maryland is right there, so you might use a Maryland cardiologist. Now you’re out of state, even though that office might be only half a mile away from you.”
While quality medical care is critical, there are times when patients cannot access it if they are unable to be in the clinic physically. Telehealth bridges this gap and makes it possible for doctors to meet patients and provide the necessary care, regardless of the distance between them. However, Telehealth is currently limited to those living near the provider. If Telehealth mandates become relaxed, access to healthcare will increase, and more patients will be seen.
Expanding an office or clinic space to accommodate more patients might seem like an upgrade, but it is undeniably costly. Utilizing Telehealth allows practices to cater to an increasing patient count without needing more office space. In addition, integrating virtual medical assistants in managing patients can further maximize the available clinic space without compromising the practice’s productivity because of the remote nature of their work.
Telehealth has numerous benefits for both patients and providers. Quality healthcare is made more accessible to people who can’t physically visit their doctor’s office, and the number of patients a provider can treat isn’t limited to those who can come to the office.
When a practice implements Telehealth and maximizes its potential, there is an increased likelihood of more patients booking appointments and, ultimately, more growth.