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Growing Healthcare Profits With Telemedicine

business.com editorial staff
business.com editorial staff

Telemedicine is not only a more efficient and convenient way to treat patients, it's also a way to expand a clinic's revenue stream.

  • Telemedicine is a convenient and cost-effective way to provide medical services to patients on a remote basis.
  • Telemedicine can be used for health monitoring, initial consultations, wellness checks and more.
  • There are three main types of telemedicine: store and forward, remote monitoring and interactive real-time services.

Doctors and nurses are making house calls again, thanks to modern technology. Using online tools to connect with patients, not only is telemedicine, remote visits via video, a more cost-effective way to interact with distant patients, but it also represents a growing portion of clinic revenues.

What is telemedicine?

Telemedicine refers to medical providers connecting with patients remotely. Telemedicine involves using different technologies to reach patients who live in remote locations or far away from healthcare facilities. Patients with difficulty getting to doctor's offices could also benefit from telemedicine.

American Medical News reports that telemedicine services generated more than $1.9 million in annual revenue back in 2013 and that "home healthcare services and remote doctor and specialists services each generate an annual revenue of between $100 million and $300 million."

According to the American Telemedicine Association, telemedicine continues as a significant and rapidly growing component of healthcare in the United States. There are currently about 200 telemedicine networks, with 3,500 service sites in the US. Nearly 1 million Americans are currently using remote cardiac monitors and in 2011, the Veterans Health Administration delivered over 300,000 remote consultations using telemedicine. Since that time, that number has surged exponentially. Through the most recent data, remote visits exceeded 1 million through the Veterans Health Administration.

Common uses for telemedicine

Telemedicine originated as a way to provide healthcare to people in rural locations who had limited access to medical services. While it actually predates the internet, health informatics makes a variety of healthcare services more accessible to more people than ever before, even as the healthcare industry as a whole deals with a growing shortage of providers. These services encompass ...

  • Consultations: Primary care providers and specialists can consult with remote patients and make diagnoses. This is particularly useful in situations where local expertise is not available.

  • Disease management: Remote monitoring can reduce or replace the need for nurses to visit homebound patients.

  • Wireless testing: Devices connected to the internet can transmit information such as blood pressure, ECG results, and glucose levels to a diagnostic facility or home care health agency. The increasing number of health apps and monitors for smartphones is making this easier for patients and providers.

  • Online resources: A physician or nurse can refer a patient to a website about a medical issue or treatment course of action. WebMD is one widely used consumer health and medical information site.

Provider motivation for using telemedicine

The benefits to patients – and the national healthcare network as a whole – are improved access, lower costs and higher quality. Telemedicine also represents a potential revenue source for clinics in an economic climate characterized by declining profit centers.

Here's how telemedicine and the addition of telepatients to a clinical practice make for a healthier bottom line for the provider:

  • Reduced staffing costs. Taking vital signs and recording patient information don't require the presence of a nurse. Relatively inexpensive technology can perform these tasks, not only automatically, but more accurately and efficiently.

  • Larger patient pool. The ability to more efficiently reach more patients across the country can increase revenue. And, yes, patients "seen" virtually are eligible for the same third-party reimbursement as "regular" patients.

  • Competitive differentiator. The clinic can easily expand its specialties since providers can deliver telemedicine consultations from any location. This not only expands the patient pool, but sets doctors apart competitively, which, in turn, further expands the patient (and revenue) base.

What's the difference between telehealth and telemedicine?

Telehealth and telemedicine are sometimes used interchangeably, but there are differences between the two terms. Telemedicine refers to the remote delivery of clinical services. Telehealth covers clinical services, but also refers to training and continuing education opportunities delivered remotely to healthcare professionals.  

What are the three different types of telemedicine?

The three types of telemedicine include remote monitoring, store and forward, and interactive real-time services.

  • Remote monitoring uses tech devices for the patient to manage health at home. These tools can be used to manage diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

  • Store and forward refers to telemedicine within the fields of radiology, pathology and similar specializations. Digital images and biosignals can be sent to the providers remotely for analysis.

  • Interactive real-time services feature phone, video, and online interactions between a patient and provider. This service eliminates the need for the patient to visit a medical facility unless otherwise directed.

Making the most of managed care

The era of telemedicine is upon us, as patients seek out the best practitioners – no matter where they are – and healthcare providers embrace new technology that allow their experts to reach people in need across geographical barriers.

The clinic that effectively develops its telemedicine capabilities to meet the needs of these consumers is the clinic that increasingly controls its own economic destiny.

Image Credit: Henfaes / Getty Images
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