Call me converted

Feb. 27, 2018
Janette Wider,

Last year, I wrote about how I would never use telehealth services unless I absolutely had to. Further exposure to the telehealth industry has changed my mind. I’m not too proud to admit when I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m not as much of an “old school millennial” as I thought. Virtual care was on the top of my list of topics to cover in 2018, due to the number of advances I’ve seen happen in just 12 months since I started exploring the field.

This edition, we are featuring a roundtable of telehealth solutions providers who gave us their comments on various telehealth benefits, challenges, and more.

Evie Jennes, President and CCO of swyMed, gave a great explanation of why patients need telehealth visits. She said, “In the U.S. alone, 1.1 billion face-to-face medical encounters are conducted per year. With a growing physician shortage, significant doctor time is wasted driving between clinics or to outlying areas or filling downtime when a patient misses an appointment. Separately, patients often face long wait times, take time off work, drive long distances, or simply forego care until there is a crisis because of the challenges of time and distance. Telemedicine programs address these challenges by increasing the availability of healthcare services where and when they are needed.”

I wholeheartedly agree with her statement. Speaking from personal experience, I’ve had to cancel a doctor’s appointment or two … or three … due to circumstances out of my control. I likely could have saved the entire office a hassle if I had opted to do a virtual visit, which has more flexibility and doesn’t require an hour drive roundtrip.

The next point I’d like to touch on is the impact of telehealth for rural communities. Mike Baird, CEO of Avizia pointed out what it was like before telehealth capabilities were available. He said, “As recently as 10 or 15 years ago, a patient who lived in a small and rural community would have to drive hundreds of miles to receive any kind of specialist care. So many patients with life-threatening emergencies waited hours to be seen in emergency rooms. And by the time they would be seen, their condition often deteriorated considerably.”

If there were no other benefits to telehealth besides this one, I’d say it was worth investing in. This of course is not the case, but to me, it is the most important part of telehealth. Members of smaller, rural communities now have the option to connect with a specialist, via a telehealth visit, to ask a question that will perhaps put their minds at ease. This is especially beneficial for those with chronic conditions. It isn’t always even convenient for those living in more populated areas to travel to a doctor for a simple question, and talking to his or her specialist can make them feel secure.

Speaking of putting one’s mind at ease, Joel Friedman, Ph.D., Director of Outpatient Services, Center for Family Guidance, made an excellent point for telepsychiatry and its benefits. He said, “Due to their particular conditions, some behavioral health consumers may find the waiting room to be either overwhelming or a place that can exacerbate some of their symptoms. Some individuals may also want to preserve the confidentiality of their treatment and may find sitting in a waiting room to be a challenge to maintaining the privacy of the fact that they are seeking treatment.”

When I started researching telehealth, I was very pleased to see behavioral healthcare included. Unfortunately, there is a stigma associated with seeking help for mental health issues in the U.S. Telehealth won’t completely solve that issue, but I hope it will encourage those who are apprehensive to seek care, to get the help they need.

Finally, I’d quickly like to play devil’s advocate. Although I am fully converted to a telehealth-believer, I wonder if virtual care visits almost encourage patients to (knowingly or unknowingly) not reveal symptoms (like a suspicious looking mole) that would otherwise be obviously seen in an in-person examination. Perhaps telehealth visits are relying on the honor code that patients should, well, honor.

As always, thanks for reading. I welcome your feedback at [email protected].