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.
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.
American Medical News reports that telemedicine services generated more than $1.9 million in annual revenue 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."
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According to the American Telemedicine Association:
Telemedicine is 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.
Common Uses for Telemedicine
Telemedicine originated as a way to provide health care to people in rural locations who had limited access to medical services. While it actually predates the Internet, health informatics makes a variety of health-care services more accessible to more people than ever before, even as the health-care 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 health-care 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 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.
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 health care providers embrace new technology that allow their experts to reach people in need across geographical barriers.
There's a significant advantage to providers who can master telemedicine, because, according to BioMed Search, "Consumers are increasingly in control of their own healthcare, and, more often than not, they elect to access care for the first time through alternative channels."
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.