It’s been about two years since the use of telehealth skyrocketed in the United States, fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic. In just the first quarter of 2020, there was a 154 percent increase in these virtual visits.
The utilization of telehealth has continued in the U.S. Almost 70 percent of respondents in a J.D. Power study reported accessing telehealth services in 2022, 94 percent of whom stated they intended to use it again. According to the study, among patients using telehealth in the past year, 80 percent say they prefer telehealth for prescription refills, 72 percent say they prefer it for reviewing medication options and 71 percent say they prefer the technology for discussing test results.
It’s not just patients who have taken to telehealth. Currently, 76 percent of U.S. hospitals connect with patients through telehealth, and more than 85 percent of physicians use telehealth services in some form. Roughly 60 percent of physicians agree that telehealth allows them to provide higher-quality care.
Why does telehealth continue to be popular among both healthcare providers and patients? Some patients cite telehealth’s capability to maintain patient-provider relationships, while others are impressed with strong patient-provider communication during their virtual care visits. As with similar technologies, though, there are various telehealth advantages and disadvantages.
Many patients enjoy the convenience telehealth offers and not having to deal with transportation issues, long wait times to see their physician(s) and lengthy in-office wait times. Member satisfaction with telehealth encounters can even impact customer retention for health plans.
For providers, telehealth aids in decreasing burnout by treating low-acuity and high-demand conditions. It alleviates overcrowding at hospitals and physician offices and helps dispense patient education on preventive measures.
Creating an outreach plan to reach specific patient populations based on their conditions can make a gap closure plan more manageable and successful. Making telehealth an intrinsic part of this outreach strategy also helps to focus on and close such gaps in care.
No technology is perfect, though. Following are seven pros and cons of telehealth.
Pro: Telehealth is convenient.
Providers and healthcare professionals can conduct a virtual visit and treat patients remotely from nearly anywhere they have an internet connection. This is a cornerstone benefit of telehealth for patients, making it easier for patients to access care, especially if they struggle with reliable transportation or live in rural areas where it may be hard to find a specialist. Patients can also wait in the comfort and privacy of their own homes rather than spending 20 to 30 minutes alongside other patients in an office waiting room. For patients with limited vacation time, being able to talk to a doctor using telehealth while they’re at work or at home is both convenient and less stressful.
Con: Regulations can be confusing.
The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily (and permanently, in some instances) changed how states regulate telehealth services. Therefore, it can be hard to know your local laws related to virtual visits. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its final 2023 Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) rule in November 2022. The updated fee schedule included the following policy changes:
- Discontinued reimbursement of audio-only evaluation and management services
- Discontinued use of virtual direct supervision
- Addition of five new permanent telehealth codes for prolonged E/M services and chronic pain management
- Postponement of the effective date of the telemental health six-month rule until 151 days after the public health emergency ends
- Extended coverage of the temporary telehealth codes until 151 days after the PHE ends
- Addition of 54 codes to the Category 3 telehealth list
Pro: Telehealth can reduce unnecessary emergency department visits.
Because patients can contact a doctor from their home when they need urgent care, telehealth enables them to avoid costly and unnecessary trips to the hospital or emergency department. Providers can more easily follow up with patients who have been discharged from the hospital, reinforcing treatment adherence and preventing readmissions.
Con: Telehealth can require additional equipment or downloads.
For patients and providers alike, virtual visits sometimes require special equipment or software, such as an app. Some patients may be reluctant to download an app and maintain an additional login, while others may not be technology-literate and worry about connecting when it’s time for their virtual appointment. However, these barriers are becoming less prevalent because many telehealth solutions no longer require special equipment or software beyond an internet connection and a personal device, like a smartphone or tablet. Additionally, the use of texting and HIPAA-compliant secure messaging can help patients and members by providing instructions before visits and simplifying the virtual experience.
Pro: Telehealth minimizes the spread of infectious diseases.
One of the reasons telehealth became so popular throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is because it allows healthcare providers to deliver the same great care that patients expect using a virtual appointment conducted over the phone or via a video visit. The virtual visit replaces an in-person appointment in the office, which allows providers to care for their patients without risking exposure to germs that could be present in a face-to-face appointment. This is especially important when patients may be infected with a virus, whether it’s COVID-19 or the flu, because it helps to reduce the spread of germs without compromising a provider’s ability to deliver care. Even online appointment booking or online appointment scheduling can be done virtually through secure online booking systems.
Con: It’s impossible to conduct a physical exam virtually.
Many minor health conditions can be diagnosed and treated after a patient-provider conversation, but there are some instances where a physical exam is necessary. Lab tests, for example, may require a blood draw or cheek swab, both of which are impossible to collect virtually. Similarly, routine and preventative screenings, such as a mammogram or lung cancer screening, necessitate an in-person visit.
Pro: Telehealth can help you improve patient outcomes.
Because telehealth allows healthcare providers to make sure patients are sticking to their care plans, physicians and population health managers can better manage patients with chronic health conditions without the need for an office visit. Wearable telehealth technology, such as remote monitoring tools to measure blood pressure or heart rate, can ensure that providers collect patient health data on a regular basis, which can improve recommendations for future care.
These advantages and disadvantages of telehealth show how the technology’s benefits outweigh any of its barriers. The same is true for overcoming the disadvantages of telemedicine.
Digital health tools like telehealth make it easier than ever for physician practices and other healthcare providers to simplify and streamline telehealth. For example, Providertech’s two-way text messaging solution assists providers in closing patient care gaps, and our automated appointment reminders help you increase revenue, enable contactless check-in, and reduce the headache of managing missed patient appointments. To learn more, schedule a free demo with one of our experts today.