Three ways telehealth solves for accessibility in healthcare
July 6, 2021
How does telehealth solve for accessibility challenges in healthcare?
In the U.S., an estimated 25 percent of patients do not have access to a healthcare provider, particularly patients who live in rural areas. In Canada, because of an increase in provider shortages, patients can wait up to four weeks to see a provider. The lack of accessible healthcare is palpable, not only by patients, but by overburdened healthcare organizations and providers. Telemedicine, also known as virtual care or telehealth, empowers healthcare organizations with technology to eliminate healthcare’s accessibility challenges. Here’s 3 ways that telemedicine addresses healthcare accessibility challenges:
Currently, Canada ranks 29th out of 33 high-income countries for the number of practicing physicians per thousand people. With such a low rank, it’s no wonder Canadians wait an average of 10.5 weeks to see a provider, with Americans waiting at least 2 weeks. In person healthcare and the lack of providers available means patients are forced to travel longer and spend more money in an effort to find accessible care. In addition, healthcare organizations are treating an average of 50 to 175 the number of patients they were prior to the pandemic, with patient load becoming a burden on the healthcare system. With telemedicine features like video conference and instant messaging, providers can pivot to virtual care to treat more patients back-to-back while creating more accessible opportunities for care. For example, clinics who offer niche services, such as OnCall’s client DBT virtual, can leverage accessible telemedicine to treat more patients, even if the number of providers offering DBT is limited. With telemedicine, DBT has seen over 170% year-over-year growth in appointments. Telemedicine software also maximizes provider efficiency, by enabling providers to take notes during an appointment, share forms and files instantly, and provide care efficiently. If approximately 24 percent of in person care can be delivered virtually, then pivoting in person care model to a virtual care model is a no brainer for healthcare leaders looking to scale their services and remain ahead of the curve in healthcare.
Patient data has historically lived in siloed systems, often confined to EMRs (electronic medical record) or CRMs (customer relationship management). However, with healthcare IT rapidly evolving, and integrations and APIs readily available like the one offered by OnCall, we now have the ability to liberate patient data and make patient information accessible and available. With connected systems, providers have a better view of patients and their health at all times, which is essential for creating continuity of care. A provider who has access to a patient’s full health profile can use the data to optimize care and create better health outcomes for patients. Making healthcare accessible is more than just digitizing an old model so patients can join a video conference with their provider. It means continuing to develop robust technology that touches every part of the patient and provider journey, so both the healthcare touchpoint and patient data is always accessible.
Telemedicine has increased access to care for LGBTQIA+, women, and people of colour. It has emerged as a way to power and evolve the healthcare system for people looking for speciality care, like individuals seeking HIV/AIDS consultations or follow up care. The Ontario Prevention Clinic and Pharmacy, powered by OnCall, is a virtual clinic and safe space for people in the LGBTQIA community to speak to a nurse practitioner online, get the medication they need, and receive follow-up care easily and without judgement. Since 2019, they have helped care for over 2000 Canadians. Barriers to care are numerous for people in these groups, with 1 in 5 reporting being refused care due to their gender identity, and 50 percent reporting having to teach their healthcare professional about transgender care. As well, basic elements of queer care remain out of reach for people in rural areas. This includes care for STIs, reproductive health, and more. Patients in rural areas usually seek this type of care at Planned Parenthood; however, telemedicine has augmented in person care to create virtual safe spaces for patients seeking care from anywhere. Telemedicine means that healthcare can happen where patients are, so patients can take a video call or instant messaging appointment in the comfort of their homes or safe space.
Telemedicine means challenging long-held assumptions about in-person healthcare as the only form of healthcare, by looking at new ways of providing care despite a patient’s location or condition. Accessible healthcare through telemedicine is the new and expected standard, and will surely change how healthcare is delivered into the future.