While it’s hard to say if the Covid-19 public health emergency (PHE) is actually on its way out the door, it is probably okay to say that we’re all starting to transition out of a reactive short-term response strategy into longer-term, more sustainable practices. What that means is that it’s time for healthcare providers to audit which PHE response practices can be ended and which were shining surprises that could and should be implemented long term.
One of the most popular practices used in response to the PHE in occupational medicine (OccMed) settings was telehealth. Telehealth allowed providers to meet with patients virtually and provide advisement, treatment, and services without the need to meet face-to-face. When dealing with the unknowns and transmissibility of Covid-19, this made perfect sense.
But now that we’re much further along in the process and in-person services are returning, should OccMed providers continue to use telehealth? Are there benefits that outweigh the way we we’re doing things pre-pandemic? Let’s take a look at a few questions that should help us to answer that question.
Is telehealth less or more effective than in-person treatments?
Hands-down, the most important question when it comes to deciding on treatment regimens is how effective they are. If telehealth is more effective than in-person care with the same resource requirements, it’s a no-brainer. If telehealth is less effective, it’s time to put it on the shelf and move back to the ways of the past.
The answer is actually neither. According to a recent Net Health study, telehealth rehab therapy is as effective as in-person care. Additionally, the study goes further to say that episodes of care had an average of two to three fewer visits, which suggests that telehealth may promote greater efficiency of care. What that means is that based on the study, you can get positive patient outcomes potentially through fewer visits with telehealth.
That fact alone should be reason enough for OccMed providers to continue using telehealth. But in light of our discussion, let’s dig further into the question.
Are there efficiency gains with telehealth?
Outside of seeing potential results in fewer visits, there are other efficiencies that come with using telehealth. Perhaps another word to include in the discussion is convenience. Efficiencies on the provider’s end are great as they help to lower costs and promote better patient outcomes, but we can’t ignore the benefits that convenience brings to the table.
For example, if you generally have providers who travel to see patients onsite, that’s a big cost savings for your team. On the flip side, if patients usually travel to you and can now get treatment right from home or the office, that means happier patients and a residual benefit of less work missed.
Another example of efficiencies that telehealth brings to the table is with scheduling. If you have a patient cancel an in-person visit last minute, it may be near impossible to get someone to fill that slot as they have to physically drive in for treatment. However, with telehealth as an in-place option, filling that slot becomes much more feasible.
The efficiencies and conveniences all depend on how your operations are currently set up. The point, though, is that they’re there, they’re numerous, and they’re impactful.
How does telehealth fit with the at-home work trends?
The last thing we want to look at today is how telehealth fits with another trend from the PHE that seems to be staying around— at-home work. As patients begin working from new settings, we should expect to see a wave of new injuries and challenges brought on by the change in work lifestyle. This could include things like injuries from a less-ergonomic desk set up at home, health problems from a more sedentary lifestyle, or even changes in stress levels with the distractions that can sometimes come from home.
What does this all have to do with telehealth? Providers now have the ability to virtually see patients in their new work environments. Through video-conferencing, you can see and advise patients with a first-hand look at the struggles they’re facing. Add to this the fact that patients may be more likely to be open from the comforts of their own home, and you have a recipe for better patient care.
The Bottom Line and the Next Step
It should seem quite clear that telehealth isn’t just here to stay out of a necessity, but it should be welcomed with open arms. The benefits it brings to the table are impactful for frontline providers, but also all the way up the management chain. Anytime you can offer better patient care that’s more convenient and more efficient—you have a winning combination.
If you’re interested to learn more about how to implement telehealth in your practice (the right way), we’d encourage you to reach out to Net Health. Our team has a suite of products and services that can help OccMed providers realize the benefits that come with telehealth and leveraging technology. If that sounds like something interesting, we’d encourage you to reach out now.