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Improving Access to Care Through Online Healthcare Options

Jennifer Morency

August 06, 2020

The technological healthcare landscape has been increasingly modernized over the last decade. From new high-tech machinery in hospitals and clinics to wearable devices by patients. Why is it then, that when COVID-19 hit, many medical professionals were completely unprepared to see their patients virtually?

Patients across the United States were asked to self-quarantine during the first difficult months, with many states still having confinement protocols in place. This led many to question how they were going to receive follow-ups or general exams or simply speak to a medical professional. What are the options for Americans that are more at-risk of the coronavirus?

The Rise of Virtual Care

During the confinement, most medical professionals could not allow patients to come in-clinic, nor did they have the technology in-place to reach out to their patients and conduct their visits. This is where virtual care, also referred to as telehealth, came in.

The healthcare industry started scrambling to implement video and instant messaging capabilities to their workflow. This allows them to reach their patients while still providing quality care.

Imagine a way to meet with your doctor, much like you would in-office, but at a distance. Through video visits, you can connect and show anything you need to with you doctor, all on a HIPAA-compliant platform. This ensures all calls and videos are secure and private, which is especially important when sharing medical information.

Additionally, virtual care visits attached to patient portals allow doctors and other medical professionals to share visit notes and online prescriptions with their patients. The information can also be securely shared to existing medical professionals within a patient’s current care team when needed.

Telehealth’s Role in Greater Access to Healthcare

If there is one positive thing that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the great lengths the healthcare industry has taken to expand access to care. The need to reach patients virtually, whether they be near or far, was a necessity as nobody knew how long the quarantine protocols would last. The need to keep patients safe and at home as much as possible was also a key factor in implementing and utilizing technology.

Going beyond the needs of the coronavirus, telehealth solutions provide patients with many benefits:

Better access to specialists

  • Although there are various specialists across the country, whether it be in oncology, cardiology or other, some patients still need to travel thousands of miles to speak to a specific specialist.
  • Telehealth solutions allow patients to connect with such specialists from a distance and only travel when necessary. Preliminary exams can often be done from a local clinic using in-house equipment while speaking to a specialist through video chat.
  • Whether it be during COVID-19 quarantine or for patients in more rural areas, virtual care expands access to quality care for patients across America.

Less wait times

  • Patients from all areas experience wait-times. Whether it be in the office waiting rooms or the long travels to get to a clinic or hospital, in-person visits take up much longer than the appointment time.
  • Virtual visits allow patients to significantly diminish the time they spend waiting for their doctor. All they need to do is log in to a secure portal or chat and connect with their doctor. No need to rush through traffic, get daycare for your kids or take time off work.

No geographical barriers

  • People living in remote areas often have difficulty finding the necessary transportation to reach certain clinics or hospitals and it is often expensive. The resources needed to reach their doctor and the price of the visit itself is costly and varies from state to state.
  • As an example, medical care in Alaska is 35% more expensive than in Washington, leading many to travel great distances to find more affordable care.
  • In fact, the Indian Health Service, an agency within the Department of Health and Services, put forth a tele-behavioral health program that provides IHS patients, including Alaskans, access to healthcare from home, saving them over 500,000 miles of travel and $305,000. In this case, virtual care is not only cost-saving, but it can potentially be lifesaving.

More affordable care options

  • Speaking to a doctor from the comfort of your own home not only saves you the hassle of going into the clinic or hospital, but it is also a cost saver.
  • According to a study published by the RAND Corporation, for visits concerning an acute respiratory infection episode, the cost of an in-office visit averaged $146 when considering transportation and wait time, whereas a telehealth visit averaged $79.

In a time of a global pandemic, the convenience of staying home to receive quality care is important. The fact that it is less expensive than an in-office visit is simply a bonus. With more and more medical professionals offering a host of virtual care visits, these new ways of delivering healthcare will stay long after the coronavirus vaccine becomes available.