The following content is created in consultation with URAC. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC Washington’s editorial staff. To learn more about URAC, visit urac.org.
The Telehealth revolution is finally here, and it’s poised to save us time and money, all while delivering more effective care.
Because, let’s face it, doctor’s visits can be disruptive, necessitating long commutes and — sometimes — even longer wait times which take us away from work, school or other commitments. In fact, according to an AJMC study, Americans devote over two billion hours to doctor visits annually, while only 17 percent of that figure constitutes actual time spent with their physician.
But the tide is changing. Reach Health found in a 2017 U.S. Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey that 99 percent of health care professionals surveyed felt telehealth improved patient outcomes, engagement and satisfaction. And proponents of the platform — many of whom view it as a panacea-like solution to our current healthcare problems — are only more bullish about its future.
So how, exactly, does this effect you, the consumer? Let’s take a deeper dive to see how telehealth is revolutionizing medical care.
Greater Access in Rural Areas
Healthcare in rural, low-income communities can be challenging. Due to small, understaffed hospitals, many patients are forced to drive hours upon hours to see a specialist at a major hub. This commute can be a big risk factor if a medical condition is serious, not to mention time consuming and expensive.
Telehealth solves this by giving doctors in these hospitals the opportunity to dial in a specialist rather than send their patient to a hub hundreds of miles away. It’s an augmentation to traditional healthcare that Logan Plaster, Editor-in-Chief of Telemedicine Magazine, sees amazing potential in, particularly in fields like emergency triage, stroke care and pregnancy.
“Take for instance a complicated birth: In the past, a general doctor on call would either take his chances and handle the complicated delivery himself, or take his chances by sticking the mother in a two hour ambulance ride,” says Plaster. “But now, because these rural hospital are connected to a wider telemedicine network, the doctor can dial in an OB specialist who will walk them through birth, from A to Z.
Not only does this give a patient access to better treatment all from the convenience of her local hospital, but it can also enable the provider to cut down on healthcare costs by negating the need for an expensive emergency transport.
“Every time a rural hospital uses telehealth medicine to rule out the need to use transport via an ambulance or helicopter, they might save up to $10,000,” says Plaster.
There’s also the convenience of getting access to top-quality healthcare without needing to leave your home. This is a telehealth feature that’s particularly exciting to younger patients in more urban areas, one that goes beyond the typical hub and spoke consultation model we see in rural hospitals.
Still, it’s not about the technology per se — no matter how cool and innovative — but how the technology enhances the patient’s experience, from initial consultations to followups, creating a continuity of care throughout their healthcare journey.
“The key is how can we use this technology to systematically improve the delivery of healthcare in multiple domains and multiple settings,” says Robert M. Bernstein, MD, VP of Clinical Affairs at Avizia, a leading telemedicine company.
Bernstein sees telehealth as a boon for urban-based millennials who have grown up on apps and screens and are comfortable with technology helping them access remote care. But he also believes it’s an easily-adoptible technology for older generations, who will quickly realize that telehealth is an extension of their existing medical system.
“The tech isn’t taking them out of the system but rather giving them more access to the system they already have a relationship with,” says Bernstein, who believes telehealth will revolutionize (and simplify) follow up visits by allowing patients to dial in with their doctor rather than return to his or her office.
As for the future of telehealth, Logan Plaster is excited about preventative medicine, particularly for people with chronic diseases.
“Once we see people tracking their health through wearables and implantables and clothing, we will see a whole new breed of healthcare that can be done remotely where you get little reminders about your health just based off normal activities,” says Plaster. “I think we’re just on the cusp of it.”
Is Your Telehealth Information Safe?
Of course the other question concerning telehealth that most patients will have is how do you know you’re receiving quality care and that your personal information is secure?
That’s where URAC comes in. As a leading nonprofit healthcare accreditor, URAC assures that consumers are getting independently validated medical services through their rigorous, third-party accreditation. As the first independent, third-party national program to offer comprehensive oversight of diverse telehealth programs, URAC is applying those same rigorous standards to Telehealth Accreditation. The key is to allow innovation to flourish while keeping the consumer safe. By defining the standards of excellence for telehealth, without prescribing how organizations must meet those standards, URAC’s approach allows this evolving industry to continue innovating while ensuring patient protection.
“We are very proud to be the first telemedicine program in the country to receive URAC accreditation," says Dr. Bernstein. "Internally it served as a valuable audit and validation for our virtual urgent care clinics. More importantly, our accreditation signals to our individual patients and our client health systems that we have met high standards of clinical quality, consumer security and protections, and patient access, education, and safety as established through URAC as an independent accrediting body. The accreditation reflects our commitment to being a leader in telemedicine by meeting these high standards across all facets of virtual care delivery.”
In other words, from empowering consumers to safeguarding data integrity and confidentiality, URAC has got your back, making telehealth technology as safe as it is convenient. To learn more, visit urac.org/virtualvisit.