As a former full-time pediatrician and current part-time practicing telehealth doctor, I often get asked by my brick-and-mortar peers, why should I consider practicing telehealth?
Physicians typically raise a few common concerns about practicing telehealth regarding payment, workflows, as well as a general discomfort with the notion of not being able to touch a patient when examining them.
While I understand these concerns, the bottom line is that telehealth has many advantages. Moreover, telehealth is here to stay — consumers want it, health systems are adopting it, health plans are reimbursing for it, and frankly, there’s already a lot of great work being done by innovators like Cleveland Clinic, Avera Health, Nemours Children’s Health System, and others to use telehealth to manage much, much more than acute care.
At the same time, there are a few, specific reasons why you’d want to practice telehealth. Here are five:
1. Get paid for things you’re probably already doing for free
A lot of doctors spend time throughout the day making phone calls or answering secure messages to patients, as follow-up or regarding new conditions. What’s great about telehealth is that you can conduct this type of outreach over video, have a more robust visit, and get reimbursed for the care that you deliver. Why not monetize these phone or text-based interactions through telehealth while providing a service that your patients want and need? You should be getting paid for the hard work you do and with telehealth, you can.
2. Improve access to care
The use of telehealth allows you to offer improved access for acute problems both during and after office hours. You and your colleagues can provide the staffing, or you could work with an online medical partner to augment your services. Patients who are unaccustomed to the experience of being able to see a board-certified physician in the wee hours of the night when dealing with a sudden issue will be thrilled to have on-demand care, provided by you. This also improves continuity as these acute conditions are all cared for under your practice and brand, rather than by the ER or local urgent-care center. This naturally builds loyalty to you and your practice, and more importantly, keeps your patients with minor conditions out of the ER.
3. Make better use of mid-level and support staff
Telehealth can vastly improve your triage services – video can be utilized by your nurse or medical assistant when assessing new complaints. These patients can then be triaged to home care, a telehealth visit with a provider or a brick and mortar visit. Telehealth can also be used for pre- and post-procedure consultations. A good example is a conversation I recently had with a pediatric surgeon. When the surgeon asked me, “Why should I do telehealth?” my answer to him was easy — you can do more procedures. You can let your physician assistants and nurse practitioners do the pre- and post-op follow-up by video, leaving you more time in the operating room.
4. Enjoy real care coordination without all the hassle
Telehealth can also be used to show specialists and other allied providers right into your office. Increasingly telehealth is being used for provider-to-provider consults or to facilitate team-based care. Instead of giving a patient a referral to go see a certified diabetes educator, dietician or specialist in the area, hope they follow your guidance and hope that you will get a report back. With telehealth, you can invite these providers to see the patient right in your office.
5. Make your patients' lives easier (and improve compliance) by eliminating unnecessary in-person visits
Visits for medication management are particularly amenable to telehealth. These visits are not reimbursed when performed by phone and it seems silly to drag patients into the office — with transportation, parking, and the usual wait in the waiting room — when these visits can easily be done through telehealth. Why bring in an ADHD patient to talk about how school is going when you can see them remotely, in their home, on their couch? Elderly patients who may suffer from limited mobility can have a visit for medication adjustment without having to make travel arrangements.
Other more obvious benefits to practicing telehealth in and outside the clinical setting include better work-life balance, differentiation for your practice, the ability to take on disease management, increased geographic range, and the ability to build new programs.
Dr. Peter Antall is a physician, healthcare entrepreneur and physician manager. He has a track record of disruptive innovation in the areas of care delivery, medical management, telemedicine and telehealth. He is chief medical officer of American Well, and founder of a national telehealth physician group, the Online Care Group, where he manages hundreds of physicians, has developed a credentialing program, and has developed tools to measure and manage clinical quality in telehealth. He received his MD from The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.