Baby Boomers and a Physician Shortage Could Hammer Healthcare. Can Telehealth Help?

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How new models can help healthcare in a moment of crisis.

Conditions are ripe for what could be a perfect storm in accessible physicians, particularly for the elderly, over the next 10 to 12 years. While baby boomers require more healthcare every year, baby boomer physicians are going into retirement at an accelerated rate. This results in an ever-increasing gap of accessible healthcare. Additionally, due to the rising cost of education, fewer students are going into M.D. programs. The current dearth of care options for rural populations, which is expected to spread into urban environments, further exacerbates the situation. The bottom line: More patients are entering the health system, and fewer physicians are responding to this need.

>> READ: How Telemedicine Helps Victims Heal After Tragedies

Hard Facts on the Physician Shortage

The nation’s looming shortage of qualified doctors and specialists presents a growing threat to the nation’s healthcare system. Research suggests physician demand is continuing to grow faster than supply, leading to a projected shortfall of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians by 2030. This includes a projected shortage of 14,800 to 49,300 primary care physicians. For non-primary care specialties, the projected shortfall ranges from 33,800 to 72,700 doctors.

Neutralizing the Threat to Patients

The physician shortage has prompted a growing number of key healthcare decision makers and physicians to view the remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information as a promising option. The hope is that telehealth will not only increase access to healthcare but also reduce healthcare costs, wait times and geographic barriers. Experts predict seven million new telemedicine users in 2018. And more than half of all states (29) have passed laws mandating insurers to cover telemedicine services.

Patients seem to embrace telehealth options, with almost 75 percent of Americans reporting that they are willing to schedule a telemedicine appointment. They consider telehealth for its many benefits: They can make and keep video visits without ever leaving the comfort of their homes or missing work. Prices are reasonable, often little more than the cost of a copay for a cash visit. Wait times are minimal, and there is no need to deal with the inconvenience of getting time off from work, arranging transportation or sitting in crowded waiting rooms. While a video visit can’t take the place of a one-on-one, in-person examination in all cases, innovative approaches offer ways to manage the limitations of telehealth. Particularly for aging patients, who tend to find keeping appointments burdensome, remote care offers significant improvements in quality of life.

Corporate America on Board with Telehealth

With many baby boomers choosing to remain employed well past retirement age, telehealth in the workplace offers employers a unique way to ensure their employees are receiving timely and convenient healthcare as part of an overall health insurance package or program.

Telehealth saves time and money for employers and employees by reducing costs associated with visits to urgent care, emergency rooms and the doctor’s office. It also contributes to a healthier work force with increased productivity and reduced absenteeism and can alleviate the concern some employees may feel about taking time off work for appointments. Nine in 10 Americans said they would cancel or reschedule a preventive care appointment due to workplace pressures. Employers can show their employees how important their health is by providing telehealth as a part of their benefits. With telehealth in place, an aging workforce will be able to remain productive longer.

Telehealth: Ideal Union of Care and Technology

The future of healthcare in this country is uncertain. Physician shortages and the impending tsunami of aging baby boomers have hospitals and healthcare systems searching for strategies and solutions to preserve resources, especially when it comes to managing chronic conditions. A growing number who have already implemented telehealth programs on a limited basis are considering innovative new business models for future expansion to meet the increasing demand for access to care. Digital health technology helps providers connect with patients to improve senior health, reduce unnecessary and expensive healthcare interventions and create a more collaborative health and wellness environment.

A Lens into the Future of Telehealth

Telehealth is evolving. Cutting-edge telehealth business models are laying the groundwork for robust return on investment and higher-quality telehealth care in years to come, reducing the cost of care and improving patient satisfaction with value-based reimbursement approaches. To jumpstart the shift, some companies now specialize in teaching and consulting with administrators on how to design and incorporate more sophisticated business models. By implementing cost sensitive and proactive treatment compliance checks-ins, these models enhance and promote the provider-patient relationship and reduce expensive re-hospitalizations.

Result: Better methods lead to significant gains in access, quality of care and outcomes for patients. Going forward, the telehealth revolution can play a pivotal role in fueling healthcare leaders’ search for solutions to the challenges our nation will face.

James B. LeVasseur, Ph.D., has been a pioneer in telehealth for over a decade. Founder of a telehealth-based medico/forensic consulting firm and co-founder of First Choice Telehealth, he takes a down-to-earth and practical approach to applying telehealth, offering customized solutions individualized to fit healthcare organizations and provider needs.

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