How Effective Use of Technology and Telehealth Can Decrease Overall Healthcare Cost

The future of healthcare is, in part, telehealth. While there have been and always will be new and emerging technologies that partner with practitioners, enhance current care practices, and strengthen policies, telehealth quickly took a foothold as a great tool. 

What emerged as just an idea a few years prior to the worldwide pandemic quickly became a forced necessity during COVID-19 in order to just maintain some semblance of normalcy. With hospitals overflowing with cases and millions of people still in need of health care but rightfully nervous about walking into a building with high risks, hospitals had to come up with a new, effective, and efficient means by which to administer care. As a result of that success, telehealth has now become a staple resource in healthcare. 

Telehealth is a broad term which refers to the use of communications technologies which allow for access and provision of care from doctors to patients. There are a number of ways in which this is accomplished such as remote monitoring of patients, videoconferencing, and the transmission of patient medical data. 

The following are some ways in which technology and telehealth are decreasing healthcare costs.

Less ER Visits 

Emergency department visits are among the most expensive healthcare services that can be utilized. The unfortunate nature of such emergencies will likely always keep such visits at a high cost, but telehealth is helping to reduce the number of actual visits to the emergency room. 

When a person can connect with an urgent care provider or hospital using phone or video services for a consultation, the answers that can be provided during those sessions may result in a diagnosis which forgoes an emergency situation. With doctors' ability to access medical records through advanced technological grids and systems, physicians can offer proper advice to alleviate panicked individuals, lessening their fears while still providing care and even prescriptions accurate for the care warranted. 

With less emergency room visits, customers' healthcare costs are lowered, and emergency rooms are left open less crowded for the people who really need that type of help. 

Increased Productivity 

Hospitals have very high operating costs, much of that is due to the sheer manpower needed to keep systems and procedures operating smoothly and efficiently. Telehealth has the ability to help private practices, and larger hospitals, to better automate administrative tasks and daily office filings that are maintained through things like nursing informatics. While some people may be concerned about the loss of jobs due to computer automation, the main goal is to make the mundane, task oriented processes more efficient. Doing so lowers operating costs at multiple levels and departments. Not only does this gradually lower costs to patients, but it also frees up staff to have more face-to-face interactions that can provide better, personalized care.

Reduced Transportation Costs 

Gas prices are exorbitant right now, and there is no sign of those lessening any time soon. Even before fossil fuel costs rose to the now historic levels, transportation costs contributed to the overall costs of healthcare provision. From patients needed to make, sometimes, multi-week visits, to parking fees, and transportation services, all of that adds up. 

The provision of telehealth services cuts straight through most of that overall percentage of annual healthcare costs by sometimes entirely removing it as a factor. When patients can be monitored remotely, given regular consultations, and the provision of prescriptions, less time, energy, and money is dedicated to providing great care. 

Barriers to Adoption

Despite the proven effectiveness of telehealth, there are still barriers that have kept certain places from a resounding adoption. One of those points is caused by uninformed assumptions amongst policymakers which think that encouraging telehealth technologies will lead to higher costs. Much of this argument comes from a good place— wanting to keep healthcare costs low, especially for Medicare recipients— but are misinformed. Data collected from various private and federal organizations have shown that healthcare use remains a steady presence even during the turmoil of the pandemic. 

A report from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) on Medicare Telehealth showed that around 50% of primary healthcare visits were held in the form of a telehealth meeting from mid-march through early July of 2020. That meant that around 10.1 million Medicare patients used telehealth. This makes sense considering that from March to May of 2020, there was a 56% drop of in-person visits, but this generated a doubling of telephone and video-based appointments. 

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