Is there a real time advantage to telemedicine?

August 5, 2017

Time is money, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of healthcare.

Editor's Note: Welcome to Medical Economics' blog section which features contributions from members of the medical community. These blogs are an opportunity for bloggers to engage with readers about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Jake DiBattista, a territory manager at SimpleVisit, a video service provider for physicians. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Medical Economics or UBM Medica.

 

Time is money, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of healthcare.

 

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One of the early advantages of using telemedicine is time savings. Both patients and physicians are utilizing video visits to be more effective with their visits and save time. This is because when compared head-to-head with patients who have the same needs, video proves to be faster than the in-person equivalent.

Jake DiBattista

Video visits are proven to improve the efficiency at which a practice operates and reduce time spent with patients without sacrificing quality of care. Video visits are effective in saving time because they combine charting with patient analysis, reduce late and missed visits, focus on information exchange and improve physician and patient availability.

 

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While these numbers seem to paint a positive picture, it is important to evaluate how this reduction in visit times is actually occurring. Video visits allow physicians to work more efficiently with patients by combining a physician's ability to chart the visit while streaming a live video session, which enables the doctor’s attention to remain on the screen.

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In addition, video visits are usually restricted to follow-up or acute conditions that tend to have lower visit times; nevertheless, there are several other factors to explain why this time reduction may be occurring. Due to the convenience of video visits, patients will miss fewer appointments and are more likely to show up for their visits on time. Missed visits cause lost income and productivity for physicians and the practice, and late arrivals may cause physicians to run behind, thus delaying other patient visits.

 

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The average time a physician spends with a patient in America is 17.4 minutes. While many physicians feel pressure to increasingly reduce visit times, they are also challenged to balance patient satisfaction and quality of care with a sense of urgency to move patients through the process faster. Telemedicine is helping physicians with this challenge, to become more time efficient without sacrificing quality of care or patient satisfaction.

On average, telemedicine physicians are seeing a reduction on visit times by about 20%, with the average visit time in one study being as low as 12 minutes. While this may not seem like a significant improvement, upon further exploration, the implications are far more reaching. Let’s assume under the current model an efficient physician can process 28 patients a day, which represents four patients an hour for seven hours.

 

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Another reason physicians see time savings is the focus on information exchange that occurs during video visits. Telemedicine visits tend to be much more focused than in-person visits, as the spectrum of care physicians can provide is limited to what they can only do remotely. Telemedicine visits are often focused around screening or maintenance of the patient, allowing the physician to focus on next steps rather than troubleshooting solutions during a visit.

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Lastly, physicians are able to offer expanded hours of availability when providing video visits. Whether it is seeing patients during their lunch hour or late from home on Wednesdays, with telemedicine, physicians have more flexibility to see patients due to the reduced barriers surrounding patient and physician location. This flexibility nets significant savings when a patient who had to cancel is suddenly able to attend their normally scheduled visit time or simply move their visit to an after-hour time via the power of video.

 

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Now, let's assume that conservatively under telemedicine, a physician can see an additional four patients a day over video visits, with an average charge of $60 per visit. Over the course of a year, this process would net the physician an additional $62,000 in practice revenue. One study found that a practice was able to save its patients nearly $3 million in travel costs over the nine years it had been offering telemedicine, with the average patient saving four hours per year in travel time. With financial benefits available to both patients and physicians, it is no wonder why telemedicine is in such high demand.

A doctor’s time is invaluable, and the crisis of time is no longer an expense we can afford to waste on administrative duties or inefficient patient visits. Equally, a patient’s time should not be overlooked, as the transition to urgent care shows a growing consumer demand for on-demand care.

 

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By improving the efficiency of a visit for patient and physician, we can transition to a system of care which is more patient-centered and empowers physicians to focus on treatment and diagnosis. The televisit is enabling visits to occur faster than ever before, and as a result, will produce a more efficient and effective healthcare system.