A global pandemic can have a major impact on the way we interact with others and engage with the community. One of many big changes is the transition from in-person doctor visits to telehealth appointments for non-emergency care.
Telehealth has existed for over 20 years, but it wasn’t widely used by most people until the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, telehealth has quickly become commonplace for a wide range of medical services. Telehealth policies regarding Medicaid, HIPAA, and other legislature have been altered to make virtual appointments easier and more accessible in the wake of the pandemic.
Healthcare professionals and patients alike have found many benefits to telehealth. Although telehealth has become the norm out of necessity, many people hope that this situation will lead to advancements in telehealth software development and that virtual appointments will continue to be an option in the future.
Here are five benefits of telehealth during a pandemic:
1. Health and Safety
Minimizing contact with others is the best way to slow the spread of a virus. Telehealth allows healthcare professionals and patients to consult without making direct contact, which reduces spread and protects everyone involved. This is especially important for patients who are medically vulnerable or immunocompromised and could get dangerously ill if they catch the virus.
Protecting doctors and other healthcare professionals from catching the virus is critical, too. Healthcare workers need to stay healthy to continue caring for patients in the midst of the pandemic. Also, because medical professionals make contact with so many patients, they can easily spread the virus if they get sick.
Telehealth makes it possible for patients to speak with doctors about important health concerns while staying safe and isolated. Other illnesses and health conditions don’t go away during a pandemic, but many patients can’t risk going out to their doctor’s office. Without telehealth, they’d have no other options for seeking medical advice, and their health problems may go unresolved.
Different medical concerns have varying levels of severity. Under normal circumstances, most healthcare systems have enough resources to handle all patients who need care. During a pandemic, though, medical facilities need to conserve their resources for emergencies and critical cases. The influx of patients who are sick with the virus combined with the usual patients and cases puts a strain on hospitals.
Telehealth allows doctors to see patients with non-emergency concerns without using up gloves, masks, or other valuable tools and equipment. It also helps conserve space in waiting rooms, emergency rooms, and urgent care centers.
Accessibility is always a concern for people in rural areas and people who have transportation or mobility limitations. This can be even more difficult during a pandemic for people who rely on public transportation, shuttle services, or rides from family or friends to get to their appointments.
Telehealth makes medical care much more accessible for everyone. When people see their doctor at home, they don’t have to worry about arranging transportation or traveling long distances.
A telehealth appointment also takes less time out of the day than a traditional appointment because it requires no travel time. Patients don’t have to take as much time off of work, so scheduling is easier.
When appointments are more accessible, people are more likely to seek medical advice and schedule follow-up care. This leads to better overall health outcomes and a lower risk of needing emergency intervention.
Pandemics cause economic uncertainty, so many people worry about spending money on medical care. Fortunately, the overall cost of a telehealth appointment can be much less than an in-person appointment. Even if the actual service costs the same amount, patients save money by avoiding transportation costs and taking less time off of work to attend the appointment.
In some cases, telehealth appointments do cost less than traditional appointments. Some insurance companies waive copays during pandemics to encourage patients to seek medical care without worrying about out-of-pocket costs.
Because telehealth is safer, more affordable, and more accessible during a pandemic, it helps patients become more engaged in managing their health. Patients may feel more comfortable at home than in a doctor’s office, so it can be easier for them to talk openly and honestly about their health concerns.
Telehealth can also improve patient engagement because it streamlines communication. Patients can meet with their doctors, confirm scheduling, and view test results all on the same online portal, so it’s easier for patients to manage their care.
The Future of Telehealth
Like with any new technology or industry development, there are currently some barriers that prevent telehealth from being the perfect setup for everyone. For example, not everyone has access to video calling or a strong internet connection, and getting reimbursement for telehealth visits can be difficult. However, the recent rise in telehealth services has proven that this technology plays a valuable role in healthcare.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on the healthcare system, but telehealth has been instrumental in allowing patients and doctors to meet safely. Many healthcare providers are hopeful that telehealth will continue to be an option even after the pandemic has ended. It doesn’t replace all in-person visits, but it makes healthcare more affordable and accessible while keeping people safe.
John Bailey: Global Director of Healthcare, Chetu Inc.