Telehealth refers to a broad scope of remote healthcare services. Applications for telehealth range from clinical (telemedicine) to mental health & substance abuse (telecounseling).
Much is written about how telehealth can save time and money for hospitals, health systems, and other organizations.
There is less emphasis on the other side of the coin—how telehealth benefits patients. Here are six benefits of telehealth to patients.
I’ve included several references to the Houston Fire Department’s ETHAN program, as this innovative program is exemplary of a range of telehealth benefits to patients.
1. Be “seen” by a physician faster
As the Houston Fire Department has demonstrated with its ETHAN program, a patient may be able to “see” a physician via a telehealth session shortly after EMTs arrive on the scene.
The same is true in clinical settings, especially with the movement toward direct-to-consumer telehealth services. Houston Methodist allows patients to connect with a physician for an audio-visual consult “on health issues like cold/flu symptoms, pink eye, skin infections/rash, allergies, cough/fever/headache and upper respiratory infections.”
2. Allay patient concerns
When a patient or a family member calls 911, the patient is often experiencing anxiety about their symptoms on top of the symptoms themselves.
Anyone who has ever had a kidney stone is familiar with the anxiety associated with sudden, excruciating pain. In many cases, the pain turns out to be associated with a fleeting health issue—as the offending stone soon passes through the system.
Since a diagnosis can be accomplished remotely, a physician can reassure a patient via video that their symptoms are not a sign of something as serious as they may have first thought.
3. Decrease ED wait times
Shorter wait times in the ED are an indirect benefit of telehealth to a patient population.
Since field telehealth sessions such as ETHAN’s serve to re-route non-emergent patients from the ED to a clinic, patients who do need to be seen in the ED can experience shorter wait times.
Direct-to-consumer audio/video sessions can also prevent unnecessary ED visits which improves the situation for those waiting in the ED.
4. Hospital readmission avoidance
Decreased readmissions is often touted as a major benefit of telehealth to hospitals and health systems. There is also a patient side to this coin.
Post-discharge, remote patient monitoring relies on devices. One of those devices is a mobile phone, which is the most common patient-side platform for audio/video conversations with clinicians.
Telehealth services are a component of the overall measures taken to prevent patients from needing to return to the hospital.
5. Eliminate the inconvenience of travel
For patients who have limited mobility, making the trip to a medical facility can be a significant effort.
Telecounseling patients may be located in rural areas, far from population centers. Long drive times can be avoided.
Taking travel out of the equation is a big benefit of telehealth to some patients.
6. Remove or reduce the cost of transport
Patients who don’t own cars may need to use public transportation, taxis, or ride-share services to get to a medical facility. This represents a cost on top of the inconvenience.
In the case of Houston’s ETHAN program, patients can avoid an expensive copay for ambulance transport when their case is determined to be non-emergent by a physician, via a telehealth session.
As telehealth becomes more widely available and is increasingly accepted by patients, the overall benefit to the patient population will grow.