Telehealth is now one of the primary ways that patients can connect to a medical professional. As COVID-19 continues to spread across the United States, clinics started to offer telehealth as an option to discuss their symptoms and seek expert advice while sheltering in place and social distancing.
It is not a new technology. It has been around and in use for decades. However, it really blew up recently during the pandemic as in-person consultations became a risk for infections.
With telehealth, the patient still has to schedule an appointment with a doctor, but everything is accomplished digitally. When it is time for the consultation, both parties have to go online. Typically, consultations are done through a two-way video chat, but phone calls are permitted, too. The patient will talk about their condition and the doctor will prescribe a treatment plan.
But, how effective is telehealth as an alternative to in-person consultation? Are patients happy to discuss their ailments with a doctor in front of a screen? Are doctors comfortable with the arrangement?
Patient Satisfaction: Do Patients Prefer Digital Consultations?
Telehealth has a number of immediate benefits, including accessibility. Around 25% of Americans do not have access to a primary care provider because of their location (they live in a rural area) and a shortage of doctors. As the population grows older, it is getting more difficult for the limited number of medical professionals to respond to the demands of a rapidly growing number of patients.
It has also become a solution that allows patients, who may be the most vulnerable to infections, to stay within the safety of their own home and continue to receive medical attention.
Most patients, in one research, were happily using the platform, especially women who are busy juggling work, childcare, and/or other responsibilities. A significant number of participants in the research also consulted with a doctor for the first time in the past year by using telehealth.
But, of course, not everyone is comfortable using telehealth. Clinics should make an effort to gauge the satisfaction of their patients in using a new platform for doctor consultations. A patient experience software tool, which sends automated surveys to ask for feedback, would reveal facets of the technology that can still be improved to enable the clinic to provide better care.
As Good As In-Person Consultations?
Patients should not worry about not getting the medical attention that they need because of telehealth. The technology will not completely replace in-person consultations. Right now, clinics are using it for triaging, allowing them to filter the patients based on the severity of illness and symptoms. If the doctor wishes to see the patient up-close for a more thorough assessment, they may recommend in-person consultation.
However, there is strong evidence that the quality of care given through telehealth is not inferior to in-person consultations. One research found that diagnosis and treatment of minor illnesses such as stomach pain and non-life-threatening injuries were on-par with in-person consultation in terms of efficacy. Another study revealed that, because of telehealth, unnecessary hospital visits and ambulance rides were dramatically reduced.
Those who have chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease receive frequent care through telehealth. But, for serious conditions such as shortness of breath, chest pain, and bleeding, patients need to go straight to the emergency room.
What Do Doctors Think of Telehealth?
According to studies, patients are happy with using telehealth. However, what about doctors?
The role of a medical professional before the pandemic has been stressful, to say the least. The shortage of physicians across the nations, and the rising number of patients in need of care, meant that they are working harder to provide care to as many people as possible within the day.
Before COVID-19, the rate of burnout among physicians was very high. Telehealth promises benefits that can reduce the constant strain that physicians have to undergo every single day.
A survey conducted a few years ago found that the willingness of physicians to use telehealth has increased. The technology allows them to have a more flexible work-life balance.
Telehealth allows physicians to work remotely. They do not have to drive from one clinic to another. They can do consultations at home which meant that they had more time for their family or hobbies.
Telehealth also removes processes that patients and physicians have to go through prior to the consultations. Through the platform, physicians can have more time with each patient to discuss their conditions and schedule more appointments throughout the day.
It is impossible to predict if telehealth will stick around after the pandemic, but most signs point toward the technology becoming the new normal. Because it is likely to be around for longer, it should regularly be assessed to ensure that patients continue to receive the quality of care they deserve.