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Telehealth Can Bring Doctors Closer to Patients


Physicians shouldn't look at as telehealth as a threat, but rather as something that can bring them closer to their patients and improve care.

Patients are pining to use telehealth with their physicians, and moreover, the technology can provide real clinical value and bring the two sides closer.

Indeed, those physicians concerned about losing their patients to a video screen will find solace in the fact there is a lot of evidence to suggest telehealth can be an extension of their existing relationship, rather than something that replaces them as the primary provider. Jan Oldenburg, a healthcare IT consultant, and Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, founder of THINK-Health, a healthcare consultancy, shared multiple examples where telehealth is creating a better connection between provider and patient in their presentation at the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference, held this year in Las Vegas.

They began the session by making the case for telehealth, acknowledging that a decent amount of providers are skeptical about its value in patient care. Sarasohn-Kahn said consumers in a high-deductible, value-based world are most cost-conscience than ever before. "[If the] average family budget in America is a $5 bill, a dollar of that $5 is spent on healthcare. If you don't think healthcare costs is a kitchen-table issue for the average family in America, you don't understand this is a reality," she said.

In this environment, telehealth makes economic sense, she argued. A telehealth visit can cost a patient $49 through mobile app platforms, whereas a visit to the emergency department costs $750. Moreover, Sarasohn-Kahn said there were studies that revealed, along with this cost factor, patients are interested in using telehealth services due to the fact it's more convenient and easier on their schedule.

Sarasohn-Kahn said the different segments of telehealth-telemedicine (using a video platform to provide care), e-mail, remote monitoring, and more-can each provide value to patients. For e-mails, she cited a Health Affairs study that revealed exchanging e-mails improved quality at Kaiser Permanente. In terms of remote monitoring, she cited provider organizations that are successfully using various technologies to manage patients with asthma, COPD, and heart disease. "The evidence is growing for all of these [technologies] in the telehealth toolkit," she said.

Oldenburg shared examples of physicians who were using telehealth to enable new models of treatment, and ultimately bring them closer to their patients. A psychiatrist in California for example, moved from Minnesota and used telehealth to keep caring for her old patients. "[The psychiatrist's] patients didn't want to lose her…she kept her [original] practice, her patients were happy they didn't have to switch providers, they kept their relationship, [she] continued to get reimbursed…It's a great example of a new model of care," Oldenburg said.

Another physician, Oldenburg said, deployed remote health monitoring technology to have his medical group better manage a dual eligible patient population in Texas. Not only did the initiative result in a significant reduction of ER visits, but it brought the group's physicians closer to the patients, she said. "The doctors were the ones who identified patients appropriate for monitoring, introduced them to the technology, and told them they'd be working with nurses. This built on their trust with the doctors," Oldenburg said.

Both Oldenburg and Sarasohn-Kahn recognize telehealth has its share of barriers - cross-state licensing and reimbursement issues being primary among them - that have prevented wider adoption. They don’t think the issues are too problematic to overcome. "If we all work together and understanding the end goal - serving the patient at the point of care, making it easier for the docs to provide service in a clean way - these problems are solvable," Oldenburg said.

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