Strategizing for telemedicine: Laying the foundations
A phone call here, a short text there – these forms of telemedicine can provide a quick solution for urgent patient requests. Unchecked, however, they can become intrusive and disrupt a structured workflow. And yet, in recent years telemedicine has developed to become an essential part of the modern-day medical practice. Here, Dr Anton Prinsloo, Clinical Consultant at Universal Healthcare, takes a look at how a conscious decision-making process can lead to creating the right kind of space for telemedicine in a medical practice, benefitting both doctor and patient.
No medical practice can afford to be without some kind of telemedicine offering – the past two years have made sure of that. There are however a number of important factors to consider in planning an effective platform as well as certain problem areas that may need to be overcome.
Poor internet connectivity
A strong and stable internet connection is considered a prerequisite for running most telemedicine applications, especially those that enable the type of multi-functionality that lends itself to a smoother, more streamlined practice integration. Ensuring that you have enough internet connection points or WiFi coverage in your practice with sufficient bandwidth for all your devices is therefore imperative. At the same time, it can be helpful to make provisions for your platform to work when internet connectivity is low or disrupted, including making some offline components available where possible.
Though the market for telemedicine is growing, healthcare providers have some valid questions around the generally lower consultation fees for telemedicine consultations, with concerns around profitability for their practices. However, there are factors that can offset potential pitfalls here. For example, many consultations that are more time consuming and quite unnecessary to conduct in person can be conducted remotely, such as repeat prescriptions and feedback on pathology results. These billable patient interactions may result in much lower fees but they also free up time for more complex, in-person consultations.
For the time-being, telemedicine is being used only for primary healthcare issues such as headaches, sore throats and running noses, for example. The transformation of the industry to allow for more complex virtual consulting is happening, but at a slow pace. Over a period of time, we can expect to see monumental progress in the virtual healthcare space, however in order to reach the economies of scale necessary for these evolutions to take place some perseverance is required. The internet was not built in a day.
This very real barrier to the advancement of telemedicine is the one that patients tend to be most concerned about. The reality is that in a virtual consultation a doctor may not be able to diagnose symptoms adequately. This may lead either to a worsening of a condition or to unnecessary prescriptions, or a combination of the two. This can drive both health risk and cost to the patient. Needless to say, as a doctor if ever you are not comfortable with the condition your patient is consulting for, it is important to ask them to come in for an in-person visit.