July 4, 2017
By Tom Canty, Vice President and General Manager, Empire BlueCross BlueShield Government, Labor and Special Account
You might not realize it, but your smartphone is part of a healthcare revolution. Telehealth is making communication between doctors and patients faster, more effective and more efficient than ever before. With live video chats and no waiting rooms, telehealth is improving patient outcomes while slashing costs.
“Telehealth is essentially a way for your healthcare provider, whether a doctor or therapist or anyone who provides that kind of clinical service, to reach out to you in your home and provide you with a similar service or similar level of care,” says Ted Spooner, who runs RespondWell, a telerehab clinic which uses wearable and gamification technologies to facilitate in-home physical therapy. It’s also a kind of healthcare delivery that requires significantly more engagement from you as a patient.”
How telehealth works
The term “telehealth” refers to any method of connecting patients with doctors and health professionals remotely. Much of today’s telehealth involves video appointments with doctors. LiveHealth Online, for example, connects people with doctors and mental health professionals via video chat. It’s available 24/7, doesn’t require an appointment and requires little to no waiting. In most states, the doctors can write prescriptions, and sessions are covered by many insurance plans. People can use such a service when their primary doctor is unavailable – such as when they’re on the road, or in the middle of the night – or when the wait, travel, time off work or cost makes visiting an in-person doctor difficult.
Saving time and money with telehealth
In the case of programs like LiveHealth Online, low-cost sessions with no travel time or waiting room mean a more efficient doctor visit. Parents don’t have to leave home or drag along healthy kids to the doctor’s office, and people can get treated without leaving home when they’re sick or when the weather is bad. Individuals living in rural locations don’t have to make long trips to see doctors, and those who might otherwise have to take time off work to visit a doctor can see one before work or on a lunch break. By keeping treatment home-based, Respondwell helps patients do therapy on their own time without having to travel to another location and patients can choose exactly how often they want to do their exercises without any added cost because it’s not a per-session payment system.
Improving patient outcomes
One of the main benefits of telehealth is improved patient outcomes. In part, this is because it helps to reduce the very factors that keep people from visiting doctors as regularly as they might otherwise want to – like cost, time and inconvenience. By reducing these barriers, patients can take more control over their health. With reduced barriers, patients can visit doctors more frequently and earlier, meaning that they can address issues as they arise and minimize complications. “If people have good experiences with [telehealth] and they see the value in it, then I think they’ll invest in their health much more regularly, and maybe not wait until there are issues,” says Spooner.