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Telehealth integration offers healthcare advantages for baby boomers

By James B. LeVasseur, Ph.D.  bio

The looming shortage of qualified doctors and specialists presents a significant challenge for the nation’s healthcare system. With more baby boomers requiring healthcare every year, physician demand continues to grow faster than supply. This has created a projected shortfall of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians, 14,800 to 49,300 primary care physicians and 33,800 to 72,700 non-primary care specialists by 2030.

Making matters worse, baby boomer physicians are going into retirement at an accelerated rate, care options for rural populations continue to shrink, and the rising cost of education has led to fewer students going into M.D. programs.

Each of these pressure points impact the elderly, who are, most of all, expected to be seeking more care over the next decade or so.

Finding solutions

The physician shortage has prompted a growing number of key healthcare and physician leaders to view the remote delivery of healthcare services and clinical information as a potential solution. Telehealth could not only increase access to healthcare but also reduce healthcare costs, wait times and geographic barriers. Experts predict seven million new telemedicine users in 2018, with more than 29 states having passed laws mandating that insurers cover telemedicine services.

Consumer patients are already on board, with many of them embracing telehealth options. In fact, almost 75 percent of Americans say they are willing to schedule a telemedicine appointment, responding to its multiple benefits:

  • Make and keep video visits without ever leaving the comfort of home or missing work
  • Reasonable costs—frequently little more than the cost of a typical copay for visit to the doctor’s office
  • Minimal wait times
  • Avoid inconvenience and discomfort of taking time off from work, arranging transportation, or sitting in crowded waiting rooms

While a video visit cannot take the place of a one-on-one, in-person examination in all cases, innovative strategies now make it possible to manage the limitations of telehealth. Particularly for the aging population who find keeping appointments burdensome, remote care offers significant improvements in quality of life.

Looking to the future

Physician shortages, combined with the impending onslaught of aging baby boomers, have hospitals and healthcare systems seeking solutions to help them preserve resources, especially when it comes to managing chronic conditions. A growing number who have already implemented telehealth programs on a limited basis are considering innovative new business models for future expansion to meet the increasing demand for access to care.

As a singularly promising solution, digital health technology helps providers connect with patients to improve senior health, reduce unnecessary and expensive healthcare interventions and create a more collaborative health and wellness environment. Now, for the first time, recent CMS rule changes herald the use of asynchronous telehealth communication as reimbursable. This is exciting because it allows patients to record a video message that the physician can view between regular appointments. Physicians will be able to respond to patient needs more rapidly and efficiently, increasing physician productivity, making each physician’s reach go a little further each day.

As telehealth continues to evolve, advanced telehealth business models are laying the groundwork for robust ROI and higher quality telehealth care down the road, reducing the cost of care and improving patient satisfaction with value-based reimbursement approaches.

In fact, some companies now specialize in teaching and consulting with administrators on how to design and incorporate more sophisticated business models. By implementing cost sensitive and proactive treatment compliance checks-ins, these models enhance and promote the provider-patient relationship and reduce expensive re-hospitalizations.

This is leading to better methods, significant gains in access, improved quality of care and better outcomes for patients. In the future, as the healthcare industry continues its search for solutions to challenges that undermine the nation’s healthcare system, focus will undoubtedly land on telehealth as an important strategy for improving health and well-being.  

James B. LeVasseur, Ph.D., has been a pioneer in telehealth for over a decade. Founder of a telehealth-based medico/forensic consulting firm and co-founder of First Choice Telehealth, Dr. LeVasseur takes a down-to-earth and practical approach to applying telehealth, offering customized solutions individualized to fit healthcare organizations and provider needs.

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