According to a report from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the U.S. faces a shortage of 37,800 to 124,000 physicians over the next 12 years. It includes a need for up to 48,000 primary care physicians and up to 77,100 non-primary care physicians. This scarcity is occurring alongside two other noteworthy trends: increased demand for specialty care due to the high number of people with chronic illnesses and a need to better serve rural and underserved areas.
The AMA survey report shows that a great majority of physicians are currently using telemedicine in combination with and as a substitute for in-person care. A large majority of those surveyed also reported that patients have benefited from improved access to care due to the implementation of telemedicine. Telemedicine is also being used in hospitals and hospital systems to help address physician shortages, provide 24-hour coverage, offer specialty care, and provide care to rural areas.
The Case in Favor of Telemedicine
Telemedicine has been gaining traction in business as a viable option for providing healthcare services. It has become more and more prominent due to its ability to save time and money while providing improved medical care.
An operational leader in a healthcare system in the far southeast can experience the advantage of telemedicine first-hand. He can assist other organizations with incorporating telemedicine into their care delivery plans. With sustaining and flourishing financially, hospitals should make in-patient telemedicine a main component of healthcare services. Healthcare facilities noticed the following benefits:
Telemedicine can be a great cost-saving measure for a hospital system since it usually costs much less than a full-time staff physician. Additionally, the telemedicine costs can be divided among multiple hospitals, making the cost much more manageable for each hospital.
- Retaining Patients:
When a patient needs to be moved because the service they need is not accessible in their current hospital, this leads to a loss of income. Telemedicine provides a virtual link between doctors and patients, allowing them to stay where they are. Most healthcare facilities in the U.S. already have the technology to support this close-to-home care; they need physicians to provide the service.
- Increasing Need:
Telemedicine provides an excellent option for medical facilities that cannot finance regular personnel in various specialties. They can hire specialists on need base terms. For instance, if a person is injured in the evening, a radiologist may not be physically available; however, through teleradiology, they can call any available specialist who can offer his service. The American Medical Association’s survey of physicians indicated that 49% are now utilizing telemedicine for specialized care.
- Work-Life Balance:
Telemedicine can help improve the work-life balance of physicians and maintain their presence. Without a long commute to the hospital, more of the day can be devoted to patient care. It is especially significant for rural areas, as it allows them to access specialized care without waiting for a physician to travel from a distant hospital. Additionally, physicians are able to work on their terms, which benefits patients and results in increased revenue for hospitals.
- Access to Underserved Areas:
The Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA) has identified 3,450 areas and populations that are medically underserved in the United States. Rural health facilities have needed more personnel to meet the increased patient demand due to the pandemic, which has put a strain on their already limited operating budgets. To address this, the CMS has made it easier to use telemedicine services so that patients can receive care without risking further exposure. It has had positive effects, which have led to a long list of policy changes to ensure the long-term sustainability of rural hospitals.
Integrating Telemedicine into Practice
When adopting the telemedicine program at a hospital, whether in an urban or rural – one must adhere to conventional business models: crafting a business plan which evaluates the unmet needs of certain specialties or services, the number of patients, the personnel resources, and requisite training; and the general patient attitude towards virtual care.
One must assess the requirements to incorporate telemedicine into the hospital infrastructure. It includes evaluating the need for carts with monitors for remote consultancy, analyzing the broadband capacity and speed, and assessing the comfort level of healthcare professionals and staff using electronics related to telemedicine.
When selecting a telemedicine platform, it is beneficial to pick one compatible with the hospital’s existing Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system. Integrating the hospital’s processes and policies into the telemedicine provider’s practice makes it easier, thus avoiding extra technological and managerial work.
Hucu.ai is a HIPAA-compliant telehealth software fully integrated with Electronic Medical Records (EMR) and is very easy to integrate with the hospital’s current system. Doctors can access patient’s personal medical history during the most secure video conferencing using the Hucu.ai application.
Conquering Barriers to Telemedicine
Introducing telemedicine has some issues, but it is becoming an increasingly attractive option due to a shortage of physicians. It is especially beneficial for those in underserved communities, allowing for greater availability of care. Despite this, for most rural areas patients, traditional on-site care remains the preferred option. It was a great challenge to convince them for telemedicine.
Many effective programs rely on groups of medical professionals devoted to a particular medical center. It helps to avoid the difficulty some have encountered with a telemedicine model, where any physician from a long list is arbitrarily assigned to a case without the critical information from the hospital. Programs that implement a less individualized approach often do not find favor with either staff or patients. In telemedicine, a physician can access a patient’s personal history through the EHR system while visiting virtually.
When implementing telemedicine, training is an important factor that needs to be considered. With proper training, programs may be successful. Nurses and physicians must help patients comprehend the utilization of telemedicine in their treatment. Telemedicine providers must have instructions on how to provide virtual care in an engaging way so that the presence of the screen is not felt.
An effective program and instruction can make telemedicine a solution to the lack of physicians. It not only offers cost-effective access to care but also provides a solid base for medical services in the future.