5 ways telehealth is reducing the cost of healthcare
Friday, 16 April 2021
Doctor messaging a patient on his phone
Telehealth is often seen as an opportunity for healthcare to be delivered in a more cost efficient way than face-to-face. Telehealth costs can be lower without sacrificing the quality of care that the patient receives.
Innovations in telehealth include remote appointments carried out online, automation of admin tasks and patients able to upload test results for their doctors to review. These have several knock on cost benefits but how exactly are these costs lowered, and who benefits from these advancements?
Reduce the number of A&E visits
Although it seems counter-intuitive, virtual consultations can lower the number of visits to casualty.
A trip to an emergency department is far more costly than a visit to the doctors surgery. If a patient can access urgent care through a home triage service that includes a phone call or video consultation then they are less likely to admit themselves to A&E for urgent attention. As doctors can access patients' medical records online, many health concerns can be diagnosed over the phone and prescriptions issued without the patient even needing to leave their front door.
This kind of triage system means there are less non-urgent admissions to A&E, which has the added benefit of freeing up emergency resources for patients who really need them.
Reduce travel costs for doctors and patients
Perhaps the most obvious cost saving from remote patient monitoring through online consultations is reduced travel costs, as it reduces the need for patients to travel to GP surgeries and clinics.
Travel to appointments and parking at hospitals can be expensive, especially for those patients that need more frequent care or who live in rural areas.
Although the number of GPs offering home visits has reduced in recent years, there are still a number of cases where patients cannot visit the surgery and require a consultation from the comfort of their home. This is especially true right now where many people are shielding from COVID-19 or do not feel safe visiting hospitals. Here, online consultations replace the need for travel and therefore save the NHS time and money as well as providing reassurance for vulnerable patients.
Hospitals and clinics gain productivity
One of the most important aspects of telehealth is the ability for hospitals and clinics to automate admin and other manual processes. The aim is not for digital health to replace people’s jobs, but to replace routine tasks, so that non-clinical staff have more time for patient facing activities. Telehealth can help to improve the management of resources, making employees' workloads more manageable and empowering them to succeed in other aspects of their jobs. A 2019 study estimates that the NHS could save £12.5 billion a year in staff costs through automation and the social care industry could make a £5.9 billion saving.
For smaller hospitals, employing specialist doctors on a full time contract can be costly, especially when the demand for their services doesn’t meet the doctors contracted hours. Telehealth can help here.
In radiology for example, medical images like MRIs and CT Scans can be transferred securely between hospitals allowing radiologists to operate without geographic restrictions. In the UK, where there is already a shortage of radiologists, this allows rural hospitals to employ these specialists for just one or two days a week, saving them from having to pay a full time salary. The specialist still gets full time employment but from a number of different hospitals.
Reduce hospital readmissions
Telehealth can reduce the number of people being readmitted to hospital each year. Patients with certain conditions might traditionally find themselves admitted to hospital multiple times within a short time period, but with improvements in telemedicine this doesn’t have to be the case.
Patients can be discharged from hospital and given equipment to measure things like their blood pressure, blood oxygen levels and heart rate (to name just a few). The patient, with the help of automated reminders, can upload these results onto a system allowing doctors to monitor the results for fluctuations and get in touch with the patient if they notice anything that causes concern. This allows doctors to step in and provide the patient with help before their health deteriorates to the point of needing hospital readmission.
Cost-effectiveness is just one aspect of healthcare that can be improved with advancements in technology. Platforms, like OX. Virtual Hospital aims to improve the patient experience and provide both healthcare professionals and patients with greater continuity of care. Get in touch today to find out more on how OX can help transform your clinic or practice.
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