5 Unexpected Benefits of Using Videoconferencing for Telehealth

We all know telehealth is convenient. It’s a well-established fact that the right communication technologies can reduce travel and wait times for patients.

We also know that telehealth brings crucial services to areas where they otherwise wouldn’t be available. By connecting patients and doctors long distance, the right electronic tools improve access to care in remote and rural regions.

These benefits have always made telehealth worth the investment. But in recent years, this class of technology has only gotten better. To tackle new challenges related to the rise of chronic and complex conditions, health care leaders are looking to updated versions of telehealth tools.

Advanced videoconferencing is a great example. Thanks to a whole new class of features, videoconferencing technologies go far beyond connecting people face-to-face. They make care coordination easy by providing hubs for sharing and accessing patient information.

In this post, we’ll look at a few of the benefits of using these technologies that you may not have considered.

1) Reduced Hospital Admission Rates

It goes without saying that hospital readmissions are a huge problem for our health care system. A 2012 study from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found that 1 in 12 patients discharged from the hospital were readmitted within 30 days.

The annual cost of readmissions was found to be $1.8 billion nationally, and $700 million in Ontario alone.

Luckily, there’s reason to be optimistic about reducing these numbers. New ways of delivering follow-up care have been highly successful – especially those that involve telehealth.

In an American study, post-discharge videoconferencing sessions between nurses and patients resulted in a 75% reduction in readmissions. Participants had been admitted due to congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

When innovative approaches provide results this outstanding, it can come as a surprise to more traditional practitioners. It shouldn’t.

The best post-discharge care supports patients in their disease-management efforts. Videoconferencing makes this possible by facilitating real-time, face-to-face connections between patients and health care practitioners.

Technologies that help patients and their care teams build on ongoing progress are best.

It should be easy for a patient to connect to her doctor, or attend regular online sessions with her respiratory therapist. It should be equally easy for these practitioners to view and add notes to her care plan. With the right videoconferencing platform, it will be.

2) Access to Specialists for More Patients

When many of us think of telehealth, we picture a family doctor carrying out a routine checkup. We tend to believe that specialist appointments are best carried out in person. But in many cases, this just isn’t true.

Rates of chronic disease are rising, as is the need for specialists to treat them. Take cancer as an example. According to experts, there’s going to be a 40% increase in new Canadian cancer cases in the next 15 years. Needless to say, the demand for oncologists and oncology nurses is set to skyrocket.

In the years ahead, health care leaders will have to make the most of existing medical expertise. Telehealth can help. With videoconferencing technology, specialists can see more patients. They can train workers to perform some of their less-complex duties. Meanwhile, patients can receive expert care in the comfort of their own homes.

Wound care is a great example. In Canada and the United States, wound care specialists are in short supply. This is a serious problem, given that approximately one-third of Canadian home care patients have wound care needs.

Through high-quality video, wound care experts can assess patient wounds. They can coach home care workers through appropriate treatments, enabling immediate care.

Of course, there are situations where in-person specialist appointments are necessary. But overall, videoconferencing can increase the reach of experts and the overall efficiency of the health care system.

3) Stronger Patient Circles of Care

For patients who value their independence, home care is a gift. That said, living outside of controlled health care environments can carry potential risks.

The geographic distance between a patient’s doctors, caregivers, and other circle of care members can lead to miscommunication and poor coordination. If home care is going to provide better health outcomes, this has to change.

The role telehealth can play in connecting patients to their family doctors is well known. But for any given care recipient, there are many human connections that have the power to improve health outcomes.

What if a woman who’s caring for her brother has an urgent medication question for his pharmacist? What if one of the PSWs who visits him regularly notices a symptom that his family doctor should know about? Communication and subsequent coordination are critical.

Circles of care can help patients in other ways, too. Ongoing support and encouragement can have a huge positive impact on quality of life.

In one study, diabetes patients with low levels of social support had a 41% greater risk of death than those with moderate support, and a 55% greater risk than those with high levels of support.

The most useful technologies include various information-sharing features, such as tools for patient care-plan sharing.

If you’re a health care practitioner, you know how important supportive and well-connected circles of care can be. Health care leaders need to find the right tools to create stronger support networks for patients.

4) Greater Peace of Mind for Patients’ Family Members

You’ve probably heard the statistic: family members provide 80% of all home care in Canada. Consider the sacrifices these individuals make in order to keep their loved ones as healthy, happy, and safe as possible.

So it’s understandable that family caregivers worry – especially if they can’t make it to every single doctor and specialist appointment.

If you’re a health care professional, you’ve likely encountered this type of concern. An adult daughter wants to know why her father’s dosage of pain medication has increased. A mother doesn’t fully understand her son’s medical options, and she’s worried that he doesn’t understand them, either.

In some cases, this anxiety is warranted. It’s well known that patients often forget information and instructions from medical professionals. In one study, patient recall was just 40%.

The stress of being a family caregiver is compounded by uncertainty – uncertainty about instructions, about the coordination efforts of care providers, and the health status of someone they love.

By making it easy to connect with any member of a patient’s circle of care, videoconferencing platforms can put families at ease. Simple questions can be answered by providers quickly. And when a platform includes care-plan sharing, questions rarely need to be asked in the first place – most answers are a digital click or tap away.

5) Greater Patient Engagement with Telehealth

If you work in health care, you’ve seen the difference that patient engagement can make. It’s about attitude – and comprehension. Does the care recipient appear to understand your instructions? Does he ask appropriate questions? Does he seem confident that he can make the necessary lifestyle changes?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, he’s more likely to achieve positive health outcomes. Not only that, but he’ll probably incur fewer health care costs.

A recent Commonwealth-supported study highlights this link. The study found that patients with lower activation scores (those who are less active and confident about their own care) incur higher health care costs than those with higher scores.

Telehealth – and in particular, real-time videoconferencing – increases patient engagement by regularly connecting care recipients to the encouragement of caregivers. Knowing that family and care-team members are checking in gives many patients the confidence they need to achieve their health goals.

In addition, some treatments – such as respiratory therapy for COPD – can be carried out via videoconference. As a result, care recipients can make significant progress at home.

Feature image courtesy of NEC Corporation of America

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