The pros and cons of telehealth

Telehealth is a billion dollar industry, but does it do more harm than good?

Here’s a fun fact — by 2020 telehealth is expected to grow into a $34 billion industry. Not only does it meet a convenience factor many consumers find attractive, but telehealth also allows overwhelmed doctors to easily treat an expanding patient pool. Or, provide care to those who have limited access to healthcare.

The benefits of telemedicine may seem obvious, but a recent study tried to prove quite the opposite.

The study, conducted by RAND Corporation, found that patients don’t always use telemedicine as a substitute for in-person visits. Instead, they use it in addition to visiting their primary care provider. The study, which looked at the TeleDoc service, found that 88 percent of their telemedicine visits were additive (added on) and only 12 percent of their telemedicine visits actually replaced in-person interaction. The average cost per Teladoc visit? $45.

Telehealth is supposed to cut healthcare costs, but these added visits actually increase how much money patients spend on healthcare. Telehealth is also supposed to relieve pressure from overworked primary care physicians, but instead, consumers are doubling the amount of time they’re spending with their docs. And telehealth is supposed to attract rural residents who have limited access to healthcare. However, this study found that younger, urban audiences use it as often as they use Snapchat.

So, is Telehealth worth the investment? We weighed the pros and cons.

Positives:

  • Extra visits with doctors could keep patients out of the hospital
  • Telemedicine is making it easier for people to connect with their doctors
  • Virtual visits could act as a stepping stone to in-patient care
  • You can attract new patients with this service if your competition isn’t offering it

Negatives:

  • Users are abusing Telemedicine by using it as often as they use social media
  • It increases healthcare spending because consumers are using it more frequently
  • Elite, younger, tech-savvy audiences are accessing Telemedicine more than its rural counterparts
  • Doctors are in high-demand with additional sessions with their patients

Experts believe Telehealth should move away from the “convenience economy” and instead be integrated into a total care system. For example, the first point of contact with a consumer could be through a text message or video chat. Then, as each case is built, they can be appointed to an appropriate doctor for a face-to-face meeting.

Or, telemedicine could be used to manage and prevent further care. Hospitals and health systems can leverage automated text messages to remind patients to take their medication, go for a walk, etc. 

What do you think?

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