Telemedicine may still be relatively new, but it's certainly undergone many changes recently. Just several months ago the benefits and drawbacks of telemedicine were still fairly unclear and the technology had barely taken off; recent developments have shined more light on the advantages, suggesting the potential telemedicine has for human resource planning could be extremely beneficial.
The current advantages of telemedicine
A recent report from the Altarum Institute revealed telemedicine continues to offer benefits with regard to quality of care and cost effectiveness. The "Telemedicine Today: The State of Affairs" research report indicated telemedicine offers savings of hundreds or thousands of dollars for patients who use the emergency room for primary care visits, which translates to massive benefits for those in need of health care.
This is also true of simple visits to primary care doctors. The Healthcare Performance Institute's "Telehealth and the U.S. College Population" report noted that while the average three to six minute basic office visit cost $133 in 2011, a telehealth consultation cost only $35 to $40.
The report also noted that 70 percent of office visits and 40 percent of ER visits are unnecessary. In these instances, telemedicine can save both money and time.
It's not just a small number of people who are interested in telemedicine, either. A survey from Software Advice revealed 75 percent of people who had never used the technology before were interested in trying it, as opposed to making an in-person appointment. Twenty-one percent of people who had used these services said the quality of care they received was the same or better than they'd received in person.
Some drawbacks remain
These advantages don't mean that the telemedicine industry has no room to improve. According to the Altarum Institute report, the field remains confusing for consumers, as different state regulations create rules that can be difficult to follow and vary from one location to the next.
Aside from this difficulty, it does appear telemedicine is working to reduce medical costs and save time.
How have early adopters fared?
Early adopters are often thought of as forward-thinking, tech-focused private companies. However, the telehealth movement proves this definitely isn't the rule. The Veterans Health Administration is one of the most prominent examples of an organization that has tried out a telemedicine program successfully, according to a report from The Commonwealth Fund. The research detailed that patients had satisfaction levels higher than 85 percent for telehealth care and "bed days" dropped by 40 percent.
Some of the keys to the VHA's success, according to The Commonwealth Fund, were aligning their telehealth strategy with the organization's overall mission, standardizing elements of the program, properly training staff with dedicated resources and gathering evidence of targeted outcomes.
Centura Health at Home is another telehealth care system that completed a one-year pilot program to successful results. CHAH noticed ER visits declined significantly – from 283 visits in the year before the program to a mere 21 the next. Hospital readmission rates and the frequency of home visits also dropped, saving patients and health care facilities both time and money.
As the telemedicine industry continues to grow, it will undoubtedly still face challenges. However, these setbacks may very well be overshadowed by the massive benefits organizations utilizing telehealth services have noticed thus far. The future of medicine is here, and while it certainly looks nothing like the past, it presents greater opportunities for HR professionals. If employees have greater access to telemedicine, they may be able to take care of any small medical problems more quickly and easily, resulting in fewer sick days, enhanced productivity and overall, happier employees.