Reviewed by Leann Poston M.D. on 9/9/20
With the advent of new technologies, telemedicine has become increasingly popular — and increasingly important — in recent years. It’s had a profound effect on the healthcare industry as a whole, both for patients and healthcare providers. There are numerous advantages to telemedicine, some of which are not necessarily obvious at first glance. However, telemedicine has been particularly useful for patients because of the important benefits it provides to them. Read on to learn about 7 important benefits of telemedicine for patients.
As technology continues to develop and expand with an ever-increasing pace, innovations have enabled and encouraged the spread of telemedicine. Telemedicine uses the Internet, video, and voice conferencing, and other telecommunications technologies to deliver medical care – appointments, consultations, prescriptions, diagnostics, and more – from anywhere to anywhere around the globe.
Telemedicine has become increasingly popular and increasingly important in the last several years. Many companies and organizations are starting to realize telemedicine’s benefits and offer telemedicine services to their patients. In fact, telemedicine is one of the most powerful forces reshaping the healthcare and wellness industries today, both for patients and healthcare providers.
From the standpoint of patients and what telemedicine means for them, there are numerous obvious benefits. These benefits help explain the growing popularity of telemedicine and provide clues as to where the trajectory of telemedicine developments is likely to lead in the near future. Let’s explore some of these key benefits of telemedicine and what they mean for patients and patient care.
Telemedicine allows you to get healthcare at any time and from any place, as long as you have an Internet connection. This allows a greater number of people to access healthcare with significantly fewer troubles. This is especially useful for people who have more healthcare needs, but more difficulty getting the care they need, such as older adults or people with disabilities.
One of the most obvious and widespread benefits to telemedicine’s growing prominence is that it greatly increases access to care. The number of doctors and healthcare providers in the world is limited, as are the places in which they practice. Telemedicine can bring a doctor or healthcare provider into your home or office from anywhere in the world, so long as you have a working Internet connection and an appropriate device, like a laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone (Alvandi, 2017).
The increased accessibility afforded by telemedicine helps to level the playing field, allowing many people to have access to healthcare more frequently and comprehensively. This is especially valuable in the developing world, as well as for patients with access issues. The disabled, elderly, and other demographic groups who otherwise have difficulty physically going to a doctor’s office, or sitting around waiting for hours, can often be better served with telemedicine appointments in many cases.
It is also a great boon for rural or remote areas, where there may be few or no healthcare practitioners within a large geographic area, and minimal access to transportation to see a doctor an hour or more away from one’s home. While that may seem like a problem confined to third-world countries, it’s far more widespread – even in America – than most people realize. Telemedicine helps to eliminate those roadblocks to accessing care.
Research indicates that not only does telemedicine increase access to healthcare for more individuals, it also improves the quality of care that patients receive (health IT.gov, 2017). Research indicates that telemedicine patients had fewer hospital admissions, fewer readmissions, were more likely to spend fewer days in the hospital and were more engaged with their healthcare.
While still a developing area of medicine, research consistently indicates that telemedicine improves not only access to care but also the quality of healthcare delivered to patients. Naturally, in considering telemedicine’s benefits and advantages, better care is perhaps the most important bottom line. Yet, this may seem contrary to logic – how can remote medicine improve the quality of care for patients over in-person doctor or specialist visits? The answer is that telemedicine isn’t a replacement for those kinds of visits, but that those kinds of visits aren’t often what patients need. Certainly, for physical or chemical testing, such as drawing blood samples, a telemedicine appointment won’t be sufficient. However, the vast majority of healthcare interactions don’t require lab tests or even physical examinations. This is especially true in mental health, senior health/gerontology, and other specialties.
The results of studies into telemedicine outcomes bear out this reality. Telemedicine patients who opt for some portion of their care via telemedicine technology tend to have lower hospital admission rates, fewer readmissions, shorter periods of stay in hospitals, and were more engaged and active advocates in their own healthcare status. Those are clear advantages of telemedicine that greatly benefit patients and the healthcare system as a whole. In short, their quality of care and the resulting quality of life have consistently been shown to be improved by telemedicine.
Telemedicine is often significantly less costly than traditional, in-person appointments. The savings aren’t minimal either; one study found that telemedicine visits saved patients anywhere from $19 to $120 per visit. For most patients, where the cost of care can often be a barrier to getting treatment or diagnosis, cost savings can be a major example of telemedicine’s advantages.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever paid for a doctor or hospital visit that they can be expensive. Even with insurance, in-person appointments can add up, with costly co-pays or co-insurance, even if it turns out there’s nothing wrong or no prescription, follow-up, testing, or other takeaways from the appointment. This makes sense to some degree – doctors, nurses, and healthcare staff are limited, and can only see a limited number of patients in a given day. Offices need to be paid for, staff salaries paid, equipment paid for, etc. even if a given patient doesn’t utilize any of those costs or services.
By contrast, telemedicine is often significantly less expensive than traditional, in-person appointments. Doctors can see more patients, cut down or offset overhead costs, and save patients lost work time from waiting around for hours in a waiting room as well. All of that adds up to non-trivial cost savings. In fact, one study found that a telemedicine visit can save an average patient anywhere from $19 to $120 per visit. Multiply that times a few visits a year to various doctors or practitioners, and you’re talking serious amounts of money for the average patient to save thanks to telemedicine.
Telemedicine connects patients directly with their doctors and other healthcare professionals. This is especially useful if you have questions but don’t necessarily need to schedule a full appointment, such as having follow-up questions about a new medication. For instance, Trimix injections dosages often need to be tweaked after patients first try them out, and telemedicine makes it easier for patients to connect with their doctors and make the necessary adjustments to their dosage. This quick, remote, and direct communication is not just an example of telemedicine’s advantages for patients but for doctors and healthcare practitioners, too.
One of the most common complaints among patients is that they don’t get enough face-time to actually communicate with their doctor or healthcare provider. Often, the vast majority of time spent at a doctor’s office is sitting in the waiting room or sitting alone in an exam room. You may have some interaction with a nurse or other staff, and only see the doctor for a matter of minutes – despite the entire appointment costing you 2 or 3 hours out of your day.
Telemedicine helps to correct this limited amount of direct communication. It puts patients directly in contact with doctors, specialists, or healthcare professionals who are treating them. Patients can ask questions and get answers without the extended waits, costs, or other troubles inherent with an in-person appointment.
This is especially beneficial when patients have questions about medication or need to do medication maintenance – adjust or manage their prescriptions, or provide feedback and get answers on new medication routines they just started taking. Telemedicine makes it a lot easier for patients to have a conversation directly with their doctor or healthcare professional, make the adjustments they need, and get on with their lives.
Mental health care is another area where telemedicine has been shown to have a real, meaningful impact on patient care. Much of the mental health care in this country does not require physical examinations – it’s typically talk therapy or paper-based assessments and medication management. That makes mental health care a prime candidate for telemedicine. It cuts down on the need for travel, lost time in waiting rooms, as well as costs for patients – just some of the advantages of telemedicine for the mental health care field. Studies have shown telemedicine to be useful for diagnostic/assessment purposes and for many kinds of treatment purposes. In fact, one study found telemedicine was effectively on par with in-person mental health care treatment. It can be used as a stand-alone option or to augment traditional in-person office visits, reducing the frequency, cost, travel time, and other burdens on patients, while providing the same quality of care remotely.
There are usually many steps involved with getting medication, but telemedicine makes it significantly easier for patients to get and refill prescriptions. For instance, if a patient is interested in taking sermorelin, they can get a prescription for it online and have it shipped directly to their home. This eliminates two trips, both to the doctor’s office and to the pharmacy to pick it up.
For many patients, the blessing of telemedicine that really stands out is how it makes it easier to get medications they need to manage their health and well-being. Too often, to get a refill or adjust a prescription, patients have to go through the hassle of a full doctor visit or appointment. That’s time consuming, costly, and not a great use of limited healthcare resources, either. The many steps involved with getting a prescription or medication management can be greatly reduced and simplified thanks to telemedicine.
Rather than requiring a doctor’s office visit, telemedicine allows patients to have a brief consultation remotely with a doctor, and then receive their prescription, which can also be filled online and shipped right to their home. That’s not only one of the advantages of telemedicine, but one of the most-often cited benefits for patients. Many drugs can be shipped to patients without any kind of shipping restrictions, with the exception of some powerful narcotic agents that are more tightly controlled. For most people, this means they can save time and money, including a trip to the doctor’s office and a visit (or two) to the pharmacy to fill their prescriptions. It greatly simplifies the process, work, time, and effort involved in getting a prescription and managing your medication.
As with all technology, the possibilities for telemedicine continue to change and evolve. New technology, greater connectivity, more powerful and innovative devices, and techniques, and more interest in telemedicine all mean that new applications and uses are being contemplated and tested all the time. Some of the biggest advantages of telemedicine and benefits for patients in the coming years may be things that haven’t even been considered yet. With a growth in the utility, uses, and applications available for telemedicine, it’s likely that even more people will have improved access to more meaningful, helpful, and convenient healthcare in ways we haven’t even thought of yet. The future looks bright for telemedicine and nearly limitless possibilities for how it may reshape the healthcare industry in the years and decades to come.
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