Our country is focused on making health care more accessible, and telehealth has emerged as a key innovation that can make this a reality. It’s an effective way to deliver evidence-based medicine, and it’s something that physicians can embrace right now.
As President and Medical Director of the world’s first telehealth practice, Online Care Group , I’m often asked questions about telehealth. Here, I share some answers.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth is a live video visit between a doctor and a patient from home or work. This differs from traditional telemedicine, which mainly connects hospitals to each other and relies on expensive hardware in clinical locations.
With telehealth, the patient can have a video visit with a doctor using every day consumer technologies: a smartphone, tablet, or computer. There are other forms of telehealth on the market that use only phone or secure email; however, live video is greatly preferred because it represents the closest interaction comparable to an in-person visit.
Do patients really want to talk to a doctor virtually?
When was the last time you shopped, banked, booked travel, made a dinner reservation, filed your taxes, or communicated with friends and family online? Chances are you’ve done more than one of these things today, probably on your phone or tablet.
Although the health care industry has done a great job of supplying information,provides serives like appointment scheduling online, it stops short of what patients want and expect from health care: quality interactions with clinicians. To date, health care transactions have only occurred at the intersection of a physical location and the supply of available clinicians. The industry can do better.
Over the past several years, a number of studies have shown that patients are rapidly warming to the concept of interacting with doctors online. Estimates suggest that half to three-quarters of Americans are interested in online consults, and I’d expect this number to grow as more patients have access to telehealth services and as more doctors offer such services to patients.
It’s not surprising that most folks respond so positively to the value of telehealth. Consider the national average wait time to see a doctor of 18.5 days, and once you’re in the doctor’s office, that wait can be long, too.
On the other hand, a patient can see a doctor in just a few minutes from their phone or tablet. For example, our wait times at the Online Care Group currently average less than 2.5 minutes, and there’s no appointment or travel required. So it’s not surprising that 97 percent of patients rate the service “very good” or “excellent.”
How do you examine a patient during a telehealth visit?
Examining a patient through video is different from in-person; however fundamental rules of medicine still apply. The most important elements of any consultation is taking a thorough history, asking plenty of questions, and doing a visual examination. Having a video connection with a patient is really important in helping to understand the patient’s overall demeanor and level of discomfort and stress, just as in the exam room. In terms of a physical exam, I’ve developed protocols to help our doctors guide patients through self-exams to provide empirical feedback that’s useful in making certain diagnoses. Our physicians diagnose and treat only when enough data can be ascertained in the video consultation to do so. If not, our physicians triage the patient and refer out for in-person care.
What about security issues?
The information regarding a patient’s health should remain private between the physician and the patient and be stored securely, in compliance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). American Well provides a secure space for patients to safely and confidentially consult with a doctor online.
Is telehealth the future of health care?
Telehealth isn’t really a new form of health care; it is the same health care that Americans are using every day, delivered in a faster, less expensive, more convenient way. Although not everything can be treated via telehealth, it’s a great option for many types of acute care, chronic care, behavioral health, and wellness services. Patients, doctors, hospital systems, employers, insurers, regulators, and legislators are all rapidly changing the way they view health care in order to incorporate telehealth. In the coming months, the proof that telehealth is here to stay will become even more evident. It’s time to embrace the now of health care.
Dr. Antall is the Medical Director of Online Care Group, a physician-owned primary care group that offers its clinical services online using American Well’s technology. American Well’s web and mobile telehealth platform connects patients and clinicians for live, clinically meaningful visits through video, supplemented by secure text chat and phone. For more information, visit AmericanWell.com.