The Benefits to Telehealth (pros & cons)
Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Telehealth is beneficial to both the patient and the provider for so many reasons. It allows for more control over the progression of a disease, better patient relationships, strengthened communication, improved access, and reduced costs. These benefits exist for clinical providers of all kinds, including nutrition professionals.
While many benefits exist, there are also barriers to providing Telehealth services. Read on to learn why Telehealth may be a positive change, and how to overcome the current barriers.
(Our examples showcase the benefits we have seen with clinicians, but these can be transferred to MNT visits, wellness coaching, and other forms of nutrition counseling services.)
Telehealth is an excellent option for Registered Dietitians as either a full-time business or even a side gig. It allows RDs to work independently and from home, allowing for flexibility and easy scheduling. With a tough job market, this is an option that you as a dietitian can pursue at anytime.
Improve the Patient-Physician Relationship:
Telehealth services are reported to improve the patient-physician relationship, increasing patient satisfaction, and communication. Telehealth allows physicians to see updates on their patient's health through monitoring services, allowing them to reach out to patients as soon as issues may arise. These features enable physicians to improve the relationships they have with their patients (Health IT Outcomes).
An issue preventing some from receiving treatment is the lack of access to healthcare services. Since Telehealth services don't require patients in-person, patients receive treatment as needed in their home where it's beneficial for them. In many cases patients would not seek treatment due to barriers with getting to an office. This ability to work with patients remotely also enables providers to help more patients as they can hold virtual visits across their state. Clinicians would not be limited to a 30 mile radius, but rather any patient in that state.
Telehealth is more cost-effective to patients as it fits into their everyday schedules more efficiently. Virtual visits allow for reduced or no travel time for the patient, meaning less money is spent on gas. They also enable the patient to take off less time from work, as visits are generally shorter, meaning they don’t have to compromise their paycheck.
Reserves in-person visits: Allowing patients with less complicated health issues to use virtual visits can reserve in-person visits for patients that may have more complex health issues or more pressing matters.
Telehealth is also very cost effective for providers, as dietitians may run a full time private practice 100% virtually, eliminating the overhead costs of traditional brick and mortar offices.
Certain consumers benefit significantly from virtual healthcare. Examples are older adults that may be unable to drive to appointments and patients suffering from chronic conditions that would otherwise have frequent in-person visits to manage their care. Patients that have follow-up visits for treatment will also benefit, as they have to return to the doctor's office less. Lastly, consumers with time restrictions will benefit significantly as telemedicine appointments are generally shorter than in-office visits (eVisit).
Prevent Disease Spread:
Virtual visits can prevent the spread of disease by allowing the patients to stay at home rather than going out into public. This keeps health providers safer from infection, allowing them to work more efficiently and take fewer sick days.
The shift from in-person to virtual care can bring about different expenses. One cost is related to the technology required for Telehealth services like high-quality internet, computer software, and new equipment. Time and money associated in training on new technology and procedures may be large expenses to account for. EHRs, scheduling, patient portals, and other tools will rack up the costs as well. Many of these are needed in traditional healthcare as well, so overall we assume a cost-savings. The major barrier may be inexperience with technology and the time to learn the tools. Technical Difficulties: Anyone that uses technology often knows that there are a lot of obstacles that can make the use of technology difficult. From internet and power outages to security issues and computer program downtime, providers can't always rely on their equipment. To combat this, it's best to have a plan set in place for when issues occur. For example, have a rescheduling plan set in place when either the provider or patient is experiencing difficulty. Before your appointments, give clients proper on-boarding information that includes how-tos and troubleshooting tips.
Lack of Access to Medical Records:
Any time a patient switches doctors or sees a new specialist, there's a concern with reduced care continuity, as providers may not have access to the patient's full medical records. This is especially complicated for a Registered Dietitian, as it can make it challenging to provide the best advice for the patient's disease states when they're not fully understood. However, as the concept of Telehealth is more widely adopted, data solutions for care continuity will improve. To overcome this barrier, do your best to obtain a full history by asking appropriate questions or request medical records through secure, HIPAA compliant EHR. Fewer Positions Available: As we've discussed, virtual visits can take up less time for both the patient and the provider. For providers, spending less time with a patient allows them to see more patients during the day. While this is also a benefit, it's clear that this could reduce the number of jobs available, as fewer staff members are needed. For hospitals transitioning to telehealth visits, the number of patients seen may sky rocket up, while the amount of clinicians per shift may start to reduce. One way to overcome this barrier is to see patients and clients independently.