May 19 2021

Telehealth’s Benefits for Patient-Centered Care — and Where It’s Going

Telemedicine became a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic and has proved its worth as a patient-centered priority. What comes next for digital health initiatives?

As the COVID-19 pandemic upended the healthcare system, hospitals and doctor’s offices doubled down on technology and implemented a host of telemedicine services, from virtual visits to remote patient monitoring and customized treatment plans.

The results were unexpected. Not only did telemedicine help bridge the gap between physicians and patients during the health crisis, but a recent J.D. Power study found that telemedicine also delivered increased customer satisfaction, outpacing other healthcare services.

Patient-centered care played the largest role in this shift. Technologies that let staff reach patients anytime, anywhere enabled providers to shift their functional focus away from simply treating issues to building better relationships.

Here’s how healthcare professionals can lean into the patient-focused benefits of digital delivery in a post-pandemic world, and what comes next for telemedicine.

The State of Telemedicine

With the pandemic disrupting noncritical visits to doctor’s offices, a recent HIT Consultant piece notes that patients “were just as likely to seek their own care options when they faced challenges in seeing their own primary care physicians.”

The result was a rapid diversification of the telehealth market to help meet emerging needs and ensure consistent patient care.

The value proposition of telemedicine is simple, says Neil Lappage, public sector solutions lead at ITC Secure and member of the ISACA Emerging Trends Working Group, an IT governance professional association: “It’s all about being able to provide healthcare services that are customized, allowing patients to receive the right care at the right point in time and delivering services when people are available.”

Along with real-time video calls that enable patients and providers to discuss current challenges and treatment plans, other technologies let people virtually wait to see a clinician or have a doctor call them back.

READ MORE: Find out what's next for telemedicine.

How Does Telehealth Improve Patient Care?

The biggest benefits of telemedicine solutions are customization and personalization.

According to research firm Deloitte, “Digital medicine products offer the opportunity to become more patient-centric, influence patient adherence and outcomes, better understand the patient experience of disease, and generate real-world data that is relevant to customers.”

Lappage highlights another benefit of personalized care programs: patient comfort.

“If you think about it,” he says, “you’ve got the physical comfort and emotional well-being of patients to consider, and at home, this is likely improved. It’s a win-win for providers and patients.”

Other advantages include the simplification of follow-up appointments and improved service efficiency.

“A very strong use case is follow-up appointments,” Lappage says. “One of the issues that we have is that people might not follow a doctor’s advice for taking their full course of antibiotics and may not attend an in-person follow-up interview. Telehealth can increase this follow-up rate. We might see fewer people having a relapse because they get the attention they need. This reduces the strain on the healthcare system.”

Neil Lappage
You’ve got the physical comfort and emotional well-being of patients to consider, and at home, this is likely improved. It’s a win-win for providers and patients.”

Neil Lappage Public Sector Solutions Lead, ITC Secure

When it comes to process efficiency, telemedicine technologies make it possible for doctors to access patient data on demand and connect with patients more immediately. This saves time and effort for healthcare providers — and, according to Lappage, it can reduce the risk of clinician burnout.

For Lappage, telehealth tools have the potential to deliver both patient- and clinician-centered care, in turn creating an environment that benefits the medical marketplace at scale.

But he also points to potential hurdles in telehealth delivery, such as accessibility.

“We need to see broadband availability and ubiquity,” Lappage says. “If broadband is not affordable, we’ve got an issue. Unless we can make it accessible, we won’t fix the issue. In practice, this requires improved technologies on both the service provider and user end.”

Security is also an issue. “There’s a fragility in the way that things have been delivered; some things are not delivered as securely as they should be,” Lappage says.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: How to keep telehealth secure and protect patients’ trust in virtual care.

What’s Next for Telehealth and Patient-Focused Care?

The industry is likely to see an acceleration of telehealth initiatives as the technology evolves, Lappage says. “Every person I’ve talked to has used telemedicine, and people are now braced for a future of ongoing pandemics. We’re going to see a lot more technological investment and improvement,” he says.

While some of that investment will focus on shoring up security concerns, providers should also expect a push toward even more personalized processes.

“One area is the use of diagnostic tools for patients,” Lappage says. “Consider melanoma as an example. By taking pictures of moles with a standard smartphone camera, patients can provide doctors with images to evaluate changes over time.”

He also highlights the need for mobile technologies that don’t require additional hardware. “The more we can use these phones and tablets without additional hardware, the greater uptake we’ll see,” he says.

Telehealth is here to stay. The advantages for patient comfort and connectivity, combined with reduced provider stress and complexity, have helped telemedicine take the market by storm, while future investments in diagnostic tools and streamlined hardware are paving the way for a comprehensive patient-centric experience with lower barriers to care.

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