The pandemic helped catapult telehealth into the spotlight in 2020. But there is an extensive history of over 142 years of telehealth remote care programs in healthcare. The earliest mention of telehealth appeared in an 1878 letter to The Lancet, which suggested using telephone calls to reduce unnecessary doctor visits. Since then, the technology has evolved considerably, and the benefits of telehealth have only increased.
Prior to the pandemic, international groups like the Transatlantic Telehealth Research Network (TTRN) invested heavily in understanding telehealth limitations and researching the benefits. In a 2016 publication by TTRN, they identified the major benefits of telehealth based on years of research in the U.S. and E.U. and suggested a framework for successful adoption.
Now that the pandemic has made telehealth visits vital for most outpatient rehab clinics, more clinics than ever can benefit from remote services. A survey from Waystar found nearly 84% of clinic respondents from a random sampling of their clients had only been offering telehealth for a few months by mid-2020. Most (89%) report being very or somewhat satisfied with their telehealth platforms. Similarly, 89% of surveyed clinics plan to keep offering telehealth after the pandemic in some capacity, while only 11% plan on ending telehealth offerings altogether. For most clinics, telehealth is here to stay.
At our Elevate Virtual Conference in December, we heard from the President of Movement for Life, Dr. Kelly Sanders (DPT, PT, ATC), who shared her clinic’s telehealth findings from their San Luis Obispo, CA, location. According to TTRN’s 2016 research and Dr. Sanders’ clinical evidence, telehealth offers six key benefits.
1. Less exposure to communicable diseases
Even beyond COVID-19 and future global pandemics, common colds and influenza can easily be spread in waiting rooms. For patients and staff, remote care can help diminish the spread of disease. And if any of your patients have a compromised immune system, offering remote care may provide patients with a safer option for visits.
2. Improved or similar patient outcomes compared to in-clinic visits
Dr. Kelly Sanders’ clinic found patients experienced very similar, if not improved, functional outcomes compared to in-clinic visits. Patients were less likely to miss telehealth appointments, which also helped them reach their treatment goals as planned.
Additionally, past research on telehealth has illustrated a similar improvement in patient outcomes. A 2017 systematic review of 7 years’ worth of telehealth studies found that 20% of the studies reported improved patient outcomes.
3. Improved patient and staff satisfaction
Dr. Sanders’ clinic also researched how satisfied their patients were with telehealth visits. Their patients reported telehealth visits were just as good as, if not better than traditional in-clinic visits.
Interestingly, the demographic that reported the highest level of satisfaction (73%) were Baby Boomers or those between the ages of 40-60. Younger Gen Z patients were less satisfied but still reported a 56% satisfaction rate.
Staff were also satisfied with their telehealth software, provided they were given proper training on the system before their first visit. As noted above, Waystar found similar staff satisfaction results in their telehealth survey.
4. Improved access to care
While barriers still exist in accessing telehealth in 2020 (primarily access to broadband internet for patients), patients encounter fewer barriers to remote visits than in-person visits. Visits in the clinic may require finding transportation or childcare, getting time off work, traveling to and from the clinic, and finding parking. Plus, patients with disabilities may face additional hurdles such as finding an accessible entrance to the building, accessing facilities while at the clinic, and more.
Patients only need access to a computer or smartphone, internet, and an optional webcam for remote visits.
5. Improved self-management from patients
For many patients, telehealth offers them a more accessible and involved plan of care. Patients can be guided through exercises or stretches on video, but telehealth also requires them to be more engaged in the process because the physician isn’t physically present.
Granted, not all patients are right for telehealth. Dr. Sanders’ team found some patients struggled with self-management when at home, whether due to distractions or lack of engagement and familiarity with the team. But for those who appreciate the sense of autonomy and empowerment telehealth provides, they often experience improved self-management.
Plus, physicians and staff can help the patient adequately accommodate their environment to their care needs. Physical therapists can make ergonomic suggestions or guide the patient on how to properly use home exercise equipment.
6. Lower healthcare costs for patients and clinics
Because telehealth also improves outcomes and access to care, patients often face fewer financial hurdles when regularly using telehealth. For patients that would otherwise have to travel to the clinic, telehealth helps them take less time away from work and save money on gas, transportation, childcare, and other related costs.
Plus, telehealth has been shown to effectively reduce hospital visit lengths and ER visits for patients with chronic illnesses. All these factors lead to lower healthcare costs for both the patient and the clinic.
Learn more about implementing telehealth at your clinic
To experience all the benefits telehealth has to offer, clinics should follow telehealth implementation best practices. We offer a detailed implementation process, plus more research on telehealth’s projected growth, in our latest Telehealth White Paper.
At Clinicient, our telehealth partner BetterPT offers HIPAA-compliant security, online scheduling, and other benefits for clinics. Patients can even search for partner providers in their area with the BetterPT clinic location tool. With the right telehealth partner, clinics can also experience increased referrals and improved compliance. If you’re curious about Clinicient’s telehealth partner, BetterPT, request a demo today to learn more.
While the pandemic may have elevated telehealth’s prevalence in 2020, telehealth has a long history of successful implementation and benefits for patients. As we enter a new year, consider if your clinic should implement a long-term telehealth program, even after the pandemic ends.