Telehealth has been an essential development during the global pandemic, and it’s not going away anytime soon. While it wasn’t a technology born because of the pandemic, it certainly was advanced because of it. Those who were afraid to leave their homes could make an appointment, see a doctor, and receive care from their own home. Doctors, on the other hand, could take calls from their office or from their homes.
So while some of the benefits may be obvious — like not having to leave the house — there is more nuance. Here we’ll discuss three effects that telehealth has had on both patients and their doctors.
1. More Accessibility to Different Types of Doctors
Raise your hand if you canceled a health appointment at some point during the pandemic. That’s what we thought. But really, even if you did stay on top of all your appointments, you likely second-guessed or thought twice about going in-person. Fortunately, telehealth services can provide better access to care, including doctors with specific specialities. This includes cardiologists, gynecologists, dermatologists, allergists, and many more.
Now those who were once unable to see a specialist due to location are now able to receive the care they need. This means those in the most rural of areas can see a specialist in a different state from the comfort of their own home. Additionally, these doctors can prescribe needed medicines and, in some instances, have the prescription delivered.
For example, a consumer could receive a birth control prescription online and have it sent to their home. And the best part? It can be done all from the comfort of their couch.
This greater accessibility is a major step forward for patient healthcare. Having the ability to connect with a particular doctor can ensure patients are seeing the best person for their unique health needs. And for physicians, greater accessibility means a larger pool of patients. More patients equals a more profitable practice.
2. Limits In-Person Contact and Potential Exposures
During the early days of COVID-19, when the world was unsure how the virus was transmitted, telehealth filled a specific need. With so many unknowns about the virus, many people felt uncertain or even fearful of going in person to appointments. During this time, those who felt sick were able to talk with a doctor without leaving their bed or couch. Therefore, they completely avoided potentially exposing other people during an office visit.
Limiting in-person contact still remains beneficial today even with more knowledge about and vaccines for COVID-19. This is not only because of new coronavirus variants, but also because COVID is far from the only contagious disease to worry about.
Other highly transmissible illnesses, including the common cold, flu, conjunctivitis, and more, can be treated remotely, reducing the spread of infection. Not having to go to a physical hospital or care unit limits exposure of the doctor as well as nurses, staff, and other patients. In addition, sick patients are not touching surfaces that could lead to the spread of the illness.
In many cases, doctors can quickly diagnose illnesses just by hearing about the patient’s symptoms. There isn’t always a dire need to see the patient in person to evaluate them. Telehealth keeps doctors healthy and safe, enabling them to stay well and stay on-call for patients that really do need in-person care.
3. Greater Flexibility
Lastly, telehealth provides more flexibility for both patients and care providers. Consumers can choose which device they would like to use for their appointment. They can also decide what time of day works best for them and from whom they would like to receive care. If they choose, they can also have a family member or friend present during their appointment. Having this kind of flexibility can help create a safer, more open and honest dialogue.
So why wasn’t telehealth always this widely available? Regulatory barriers were one reason. Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quickly saw the need for flexibility during the pandemic and adjusted the HIPAA rules.
Thanks to this change, doctors can take patient calls on video chat applications such as Zoom for Healthcare, VSee, GoToMeeting, or SimplePractice Telehealth.
With greater flexibility, patients are more likely than ever to make an appointment. As an example, parents with a sick child could text their doctor in the middle of the night for reassurance and guidance. For physicians, greater flexibility means they have more control over their work schedules. They have the option to log more after-shift calls to see more patients and therefore increase their revenues.
Telehealth isn’t going anywhere, and for many people, that’s a good thing. Patients who need flexibility to meet their schedules are able to receive the level of care they require. And doctors who want to stay healthy and create their own schedule are able to do so.
The expansion of telehealth could lead to a healthier society overall. That’s because it allows patients to get the health care services they need when and where they need them.