Patient desire for virtual visits will likely not diminish. But when it comes to telehealth, what do providers desire?
Even though patients are starting to feel comfortable again with in-office visits, their desire for virtual visits will likely not diminish. But what do providers desire?
From my perspective, telehealth is not only the best option for access to care, but it’s the future of medicine. I strongly believe that even more integrated solutions will be the next frontier. Bringing multi-disciplinary specialties to rural locations through telehealth will address and minimize healthcare inequalities while leveraging value-based care practices.
Rural and critical access hospitals started using telehealth services long before the pandemic. Back then, the technology was used mostly for nighttime admission services. Today, though, as more providers have become comfortable with virtual care delivery, telehealth’s relevance has ingrained itself in an integrated approach.
This is due in large part to providers. Learning to use virtual technology during the pandemic added yet another burden to already stressed providers and clinicians, yet they did it willingly. Their willingness to immerse themselves in an unfamiliar technology has borne significant increases in access, nurses’ and residents’ job satisfaction, and quality of care. Significantly, for chronic cases, telehealth has proven to reduce time-to-care in rural and acute facilities (from 10 minutes to fewer than five minutes) and faster access to specialists.
Telehealth services that make clinical providers available at any time contribute meaningfully to rural, critical care and post-acute hospitals’ daytime rounding, which help offset the serious provider shortage. For these hospitals, incorporating virtual specialty service lines allow for more robust service offerings to patients who would otherwise not have access to this kind of care. That, in turn, not only saves hospitals the cost of recruiting and staffing in-house providers but increases revenue through expanded services and fewer gaps in care.
Another reason providers welcome telehealth is that it eases tension between nurses and providers. Nurses in rural and acute hospitals now carry the added burden of managing critically ill patients who cannot gain access to nearby at-capacity facilities. Nurses can put in a patient encounter request and the orders are generated in the patient’s electronic health record. This limits verbal orders which can be a cause of medical error. With virtual care, an on-call provider can quickly respond to this request to avoid delays in care, improving nurses’ productivity since they do not need to enter orders themselves.
In addition, nurses are getting little coverage support and are taking on a steady increase in patient ratios. Often these cases bring increased complexity. With a telehealth solution that includes 24/7/365 provider availability, virtual care can increase nurse productivity. Instead of trying to explain a patient story telephonically, the nurse (and patient and provider) benefit from a provider being in the room, virtually, to assess and manage the patient first-hand and enter orders remotely.
Results from a survey by the American Medical Association in late 2020 suggest that 60% of providers report telehealth has improved their patients’ health, and more than 80% think it has improved the timeliness of care. Providers are benefitting from telehealth, too. Provider experience has been shown to affect patient experience, and virtual care enables a seamless, convenient, and accessible channel from which both parties benefit.
We providers should welcome the new frontier. This new virtual world allows us to work from wherever we live or travel and still administer care to patients. We can serve our communities with greater impact by delivering care to a wider patient base. We can practice at the top of our licenses by delivering quality healthcare to patients who would otherwise go without it. For providers who have retired from private practice, virtual care offers a way to drive a continuous income stream.