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Previously thought of as “health at a distance,” telehealth now encompasses digital health access via mobile and web apps, electronic health records that sync with other data sources, asynchronous care solutions, and video appointments.
HHS recently published a study, performed in late February, that indicates hospitals around the country are operating in “survival mode” and face widespread shortages of not only personal protective equipment (PPE), beds, and medical equipment, but also personnel such as nurses and other clinical staff. At the surface this may seem like old news, but the study shows that hospitals in both urban and rural areas are operating under extreme pressure as the COVID-19 pandemic persists nationwide. For inner city hospitals, it may be that they are simply overwhelmed in the face of high demand. For the rural hospitals, it may be that they never had adequate resources to begin with, and the pandemic has served as the first falling domino in a long line of challenges that have pushed health systems to the limit.
Clinical teams across the country are flat-out exhausted, bearing bruises both emotional and physical from the mental toil and the layers upon layers of PPE worn for 10, 12, 16 hours a day (assuming they’ve had sufficient access to PPE, which many have not). We know that healthcare workers are heroes in their own right, but we also know that we cannot reasonably expect them to carry this herculean burden alone. Before the pandemic, burnout among providers was already high compared with other professions, but now it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen. This is being compounded by the growing problem of a provider shortage: the latest study by the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033.
Patients, meanwhile, feel that our healthcare system is actively working against them. The cost of healthcare is obscenely and prohibitively high, and oftentimes patients aren’t aware of the cost of care until after it’s already been administered and they receive a bill in the mail. This, along with difficulties in accessing care, makes many patients reluctant to seek care at all. Even if patients do have the means to seek care, the process is clunky at best and utterly ineffective at worst. Patients feel that nobody is listening to them, and who can blame them? In the course of a single appointment, a patient may be asked the same set of basic intake questions two or three times before they’re finally able to see their primary care physician for a rushed, impersonal 20-minute appointment. In the end, the experience isn’t ideal for anyone — patients feel neglected or ignored, and physicians feel pressured to see as many patients as possible before diving into the requisite hours of documentation that follow. It’s a lose-lose scenario, to say the least.
But there is a better way and healthcare technology is leading the charge.
Advanced virtual software works to support the entire hybrid care ecosystem
When we leverage today’s technology, we see positive results across the board. Patients experience much shorter wait-times with the availability of digital asynchronous solutions, freeing up resources for higher-acuity conditions that truly do necessitate in-person visits. Dynamic clinical interviews sync seamlessly with electronic health records (EHRs), optimizing the history-taking process and eliminating headaches for providers and patients alike. Most physician paperwork (which is often redundant to begin with) is eliminated, with digital platforms performing the majority of the clerical legwork like taking a comprehensive patient history and creating chart-ready SOAP notes, after-visit summaries, and follow-up instructions. While it’s certainly true that some aspects of healthcare are best handled with the authenticity and sensitivity of human interaction, there are countless facets of the care ecosystem that can (and should) be driven by technology first. And the reality is, when done right, virtual care solutions can actually restore humanity back to healthcare.
Telehealth enables access to comprehensive care solutions
Telehealth has become increasingly popular since the onset of the pandemic, both by direct necessity and by the accelerated wave of innovation propagated by the outbreak. Telehealth, frankly, is also not what it used to be. Previously thought of merely as “health at a distance,” telehealth now encompasses so much more, including digital health access via mobile and web apps, electronic health records that sync with a variety of data sources, asynchronous care solutions, and, yes, video appointments. Telehealth also has the ability to bridge the gap between rural and urban health systems. Many communities are still without high-speed internet access, but some telehealth platforms require only a 3G data connection, which could prove transformational for populations located far from traditional health clinics and hospitals.
Telehealth should not be treated as a discrete alternative to traditional in-person care, but rather a streamlined component of an entire care ecosystem in which patients experience more personalized, efficient, and convenient care and providers experience professional fulfillment in providing that care. We’ve seen incredible technological advancements in recent years, and we can leverage these advancements to transform the healthcare landscape. Modern telehealth solutions have already proven incredibly successful, with the ability to reduce physicians’ clerical work by 90%, cutting patients’ average wait-times down to an average of 6 minutes, and reducing patient cost to an average of $0 to $49 per visit. Telehealth has become increasingly popular over the past year, and we cannot let it fall by the wayside when the pandemic eventually subsides.
The future is now
Imagine a world in which healthcare is easy for patients — and, dare I say, a positive, affordable, accessible experience. Imagine a world in which physicians spend more quality time building relationships with their patients and less time in front of a computer, administering personalized care while practicing at the top of their license. That world is closer than you might think and, in some cases, it’s already here.
Christina Chen, MD, is a board-certified physician trained in family medicine. She began practicing medicine in 2007 and has vast experience delivering care both in-person and virtually. As medical director at Bright.md, she ensures the clinical content inside the platform is of the highest quality and adheres to the strictest standards of evidence-based medicine. She oversees the development of new content and monitors the latest guidelines and recommendations to keep clinical modules up to date. Dr. Chen also provides insight to product teams and works with our customers to optimize the clinical experience for their providers.