As health technology continues to gather momentum, the benefits to patients and the delivery of healthcare as a whole is unquestionable. While most policies, such as the MDGs, ObamaCare etc. are targeted at improving the welfare of patients, the practitioner’s plight can be left hanging in the balance. In most instances, the onus lies upon the relevant medical association or labor union to represent the needs of their doctors and physicians. Given that healthcare is a fundamental right to all, the issue of profitability can be somewhat contentious if not downright controversial. However, like any other business, medical practices need to make healthy profits in order to sustain their existence, grow and adapt to persistently increasing health care costs. The Telehealth Alliance of Oregon defines telemedicine as ‘’the use of telecommunications technology to deliver clinical diagnosis, services and patient consultation³’’. This practice has been seen to have marked benefits for practitioners and there is a lot to be gained in adopting it.
The first upside to implementing telemedicine as part of a practitioner’s service offering is an improvement in efficiency. This is mainly propagated by an increased access to information and better cooperation across physicians. By digitizing the treatment process, from diagnosis to discharge, case – related information and consultative decisions can be arrived at instantaneously. In addition to that, practitioners in otherwise remote locations can get access to health journals and literature that would otherwise be out of reach. The sum result of this would be a progressive up-skilling of the practitioner allowing him / her to tend to complex patient ailments that would otherwise be referrals to other doctors or facilities.
Another benefit to consider is increased profitability for the practice. It is no secret that in most cases, the current method of booking a doctor’s appointment requires time and effort on the part of the patient. For the working population, one needs to apply for a sick day from their employers. In cases of children, arrangements with either day-care centres and / or schools are a requirement. Patients also need to call in to set an appointment date and then actually travel to the doctor’s office. Depending on location and the practice’s catchment, there may be a long wait for the patient before he / she is attended to. Finally, the consultation itself needs to be paid for, a cost which is often quite high. Resultantly, patients would rather put off going to the doctor’s unless it is a dire situation. Even then, cancellations are a reality that most practices have to live with, as patients often battle to integrate visits into their daily schedules. By introducing telemedicine to its other service offering, a practice would make it much easier for patients to visit their doctors. This would subsequently streamline any practitioner’s operations and increase turnover.
One of the risks that loom over any physician’s head is the occasion of getting sued for malpractice. In any business, occupation or profession, instances do arise in which the client is not satisfied with services rendered. While a simple refund or exchange can be enough to quell a disgruntled customer, for medical practitioners, the stakes can be a bit more grave. Practicing licenses can be revoked and in cases, facilities shut down due to a scathing civil suit. Even in situations where a doctor is vindicated through legal recourse, the negative publicity is usually enough to dissuade patients altogether. Using telemedicine can help avoid this unpleasant eventuality in a number of ways. Firstly, because all interaction between the doctor and patient happens over electronic channels, conversations can easily be traced. There is also little to no chance of misplacing, losing or mishandling patients’ documentation. In addition to that, instances of patients failing to follow-up their appointments due to costs are reduced. As already mentioned, because doctors are able to access a lot more information and consult with fellow professionals, they are also bound to arrive at more accurate diagnosis and patients’ advice.
It is of great importance to stress that in the millennial timeline of medicine and healthcare, telemedicine is a very new concept. Empirical information substantiating the long term benefits and drawbacks of the practice is still quite limited. With further research, increased implementation and the progress of time, more substantial information may become available regarding telehealth. However, at present the above – mentioned advantages are but a few reasons for any practitioner to consider integrating telemedicine into their occupational routine. As Med-eSmart, we are interested in learning more about the experiences and viewpoints of both doctors and patients. Gladly share your thoughts on our Facebook and Twitter pages and together, let’s reshape healthcare.