Telehealth encompasses a range of healthcare services that leverage telecommunications to care for patients. Many times, telehealth is used interchangeably with telemedicine, which is a more specific type of service that uses virtual visits to facilitate patient care over video. In either case, technology provides the healthcare industry with numerous advantages that supplement in-person medical care so patients can stay healthy in and out of the doctor’s office. While there are some instances when telemedicine cannot replace an in-person visit, the pros of telehealth far outweigh the cons.
Here are seven pros and cons of telehealth.
Top pros and cons of telehealth
Pro: Telehealth minimizes the spread of infectious diseases.
One of the reasons telemedicine and telehealth have become 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.
Con: It’s impossible to conduct a physical exam virtually.
While many minor health conditions can be diagnosed and treated after a patient-provider conversation, 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. Still, for patients who need a follow-up visit, medication refill, or diagnosis for minor illness, a virtual visit is often safer and more convenient than an in-person appointment.
Pro: Telehealth is convenient.
Providers can conduct a virtual visit from nearly anywhere they have an internet connection. This makes it easier for patients to access care, especially if they struggle with reliable transportation or if they 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 home 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.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily (and permanently, in some instances,) changed how states regulate telehealth services, it can be hard to know your local laws related to virtual visits. Healthcare industry barriers, such as interoperability in electronic health record (EHR) systems can also complicate telehealth and telemedicine services, which can make some healthcare providers hesitant to use technology to deliver patient care.
Pro: Telehealth can reduce unnecessary ER visits.
Because patients can contact a doctor from their home when they need urgent care, telehealth can help patients avoid costly and unnecessary trips to the hospital or emergency room. If you’re a healthcare provider, you can more easily follow up with patients who have been discharged from the hospital, reinforcing treatment adherence which can prevent readmissions. If patients have questions, they can avoid in-person visits by connecting with their provider using telehealth, which can also empower them to feel in charge of their care.
Con: Telehealth can require additional equipment or downloads.
For patients and providers alike, sometimes telemedicine and virtual visits 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 cons related to telemedicine equipment and software are becoming less prevalent because many telehealth solutions no longer require special equipment or software beyond an internet connection and 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 prior to visits and simplify the virtual experience.
Pro: Telehealth can help you improve patient outcomes.
Because telemedicine allows healthcare providers to make sure patients are sticking to their care plans, physicians and population health managers are able to better manage patients with chronic health conditions without the need for an office visit. And 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.
Are you a healthcare provider looking for a simplified way to deliver telehealth services?
There are many more pros and cons to leveraging telehealth as part of a comprehensive care delivery model. Because the advantages outweigh any downsides, telemedicine and telehealth are revolutionizing the way we care for patients everywhere.