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How the Telehealth Field Strengthens Patient Engagement

By Vera Gruessner

- The telehealth field has been expanding significantly across the healthcare spectrum and making a real impact on patient access to care. For instance, individuals who lived in rural towns far away from medical hubs now have access to healthcare specialists through the use of video conferencing technology and virtual physician consultations.

Telehealth and Patient Engagement

Additionally, the telehealth field can have a great impact on patient engagement by further stimulating interest in patients tracking their medical conditions, outcomes, and overall wellness. Telemedicine tools can help patients remain in contact with their physicians, receive much-needed answers to their questions, and generate greater engagement with one’s medical status.

“With respect to patient engagement, we need to make it simpler and easier for patients to access the types of care that will really help them. Focusing on that is key,” Dr. Reena Pande, Chief Medical Officer at Abilto and Cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told mHealthIntelligence.com.

To learn more about patient engagement and how the telehealth field plays a role in that factor, mHealthIntelligence.com asked some pertinent questions of Dr. Pande.

mHealthIntelligence.com: Does the telehealth field really improve patient engagement? What works to increase patient engagement and does it enhance health outcomes?

READ MORE: Blue Cross Blue Shield of GA Offers Maternity Telehealth Program

Dr. Reena Pande: With respect to engagement, I think the task for us as a healthcare system is really to think about what barriers exist for patients to get the type of care they need and how to remove those barriers.

We’ve been a bit hospital and healthcare system-centric and we’re flipping that model to be more patient-centric and to think about how we can put the patient back at the center of the model. Figure out how to best serve them, how to figure out what’s standing in their way, and how to remove those barriers.

I do strongly believe that making it simple for a patient and a provider to engage with one another remotely – by telephone or video – and removing the barriers is a key factor to improving patient engagement. It is beneficial to simplify access to that type of care and reach a provider at a time that patients need to.

It helps in several ways to improve engagement. One is that patients will take advantage of it in a much more timely way. They may not wait a week or more to get into their PCP’s office or an emergency department. They may be more apt to use the new mechanism and that might make access to care more readily available.

There’s a timeliness to it and people may be more apt to want to participate in their own care when they can do it in a simpler fashion.

READ MORE: Providers Must Negotiate Telehealth Reimbursement With Payers

mHealthIntelligence.com:  What is keeping state medical boards and other organizations from expanding telemedicine across state borders?

RP: One of the limitations has been the requirement for state licensure regulation. These regulations require the practice of medicine and the practitioner – be it a physician or social worker – to be licensed within the state where the patients reside. We’re breaking down those geographic barriers with our technology and I think we need to break down the regulatory barriers to follow suit with the technological advancements.

That will allow much broader dissemination and utilization of some of our technology capabilities that are growing rapidly.

mHealthIntelligence.com: What are the biggest benefits of telehealth technology for both patients and doctors?

RP: Let’s take patients first. For patients, I think one of the biggest benefits is improving access to care and patient engagement. It still confounds me why we continue to ask patients to get in their car, drive to the hospital, find parking, and wait 45 minutes to see me in the clinic when all of the challenges requiring a patient to come to a facility are avoided by the use of their telemedicine mechanism to deliver care.

READ MORE: Telemedicine Gets a Passing Grade in School Concussion Study

I think it makes it simple for people to get the kind of care that they need and patients are much more likely to engage and get the better clinical outcomes that we anticipate. Also, more global access to care is achieved. Patients in rural areas or suburban areas where it may be challenging to find the right provider can have much greater access to the type of care that they need through remote means.

We have seen that about one-third of our participants come from rural regions. These are individuals who would probably never get the type of care we deliver – a combination of behavioral, coaching, and therapy delivered to high-risk medical populations. They may never have access to those type of providers in their regions or neighborhoods. It’s a real thrill to see that we can improve access to care nationally by this type of mechanism delivery.

From a provider standpoint, there is an even simplification of the delivery that we can provide to our patients. It’s a much simpler way for us to outreach and engage with our patients if we do it in a telehealth fashion.

It’s providers who are fearful of change and worried that technology might replace us. We might have to let down our guard a bit with respect to these new technologies and recognize that they really can help us reach more people at the right time. That ultimately will benefit everybody and improve outcomes.

mHealthIntelligence.com: What are some common challenges healthcare providers have with implementing a telemedicine platform? How can they overcome these barriers?

RP: I think that there’s a cost component to it that we need to contemplate. The question is – who owns or who pays for the service that’s provided? Is it that each individual provider needs to put in an investment to be a telehealth provider or alternatively should we have broader capability to allow providers to participate in existing platforms?

One of the barriers is trying to understand how that works and who owns the financial burden of implementing telehealth capabilities for each provider. Then, there’s a willingness barrier that I mentioned earlier. The willingness to move forward and to advance technologically.

Another challenge is not seeing change as a burden but to have change and technology to be seen as opportunities. That’s a mindset shift that physicians and other providers need to entertain in order for telehealth care to really take off.

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