The U.S. is in the midst of a shortage of doctors, which could reach as high as 120,000 physicians by 2030, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. The impact is already being felt, as average wait times for scheduling appointments in large metro areas climbed to 24 days last year (up from 18.5 days in 2014). An already emerging telehealth industry, however, is well-positioned to benefit both patients and providers by enabling doctors to work more efficiently and treat more patients, helping to reduce the effect of the shortage.
Here are some of the ways telehealth can help overcome the existing shortage, which is only expected to rise in the coming years.
Access to greater pool of physicians
Using telehealth solutions opens up a wider pool of physicians to patients. This means patients who have needs that can be addressed with remote consultations may be able to schedule appointments much sooner than if they wait for an in-office visit. Consequently, more in-clinic times will be available for those patients who need to see a doctor in person, so an increase in telehealth use will benefit all patients.
Maximize physician utilization
The physician shortage makes doctors’ time extremely valuable and requires optimal use of their resources to serve patients. Even with a shortage of resources, patients cancel or change their appointments. Telehealth services allow doctors to fill the gaps between patient needs, maximizing their time and allowing them to see remote patients when they aren’t otherwise engaged. It also allows more doctors to see more patients in less time, making the entire healthcare system efficient.
Increased availability of specialists and quality of care
Patients in rural areas or with less common conditions may find it difficult to gain access to specialists. Telehealth allows local providers to connect with larger networks and medical centers to provide access to specialists and assist patients more quickly and conveniently. Physicians and staff can also consult colleagues across the country (or globe) for second opinions to make better decisions and increase the quality of care to patients.
Flexibility for physicians
Many doctors work out of several facilities within their networks, which can require them to travel between locations to serve patients. Telehealth capabilities allow them to serve more patients from one location – wherever those patients may be located and doesn’t require them to always be in a certain place at a certain time. Not only does this reduce travel time and expenses for both patients and physicians, it adds a level of convenience for physicians by reducing the strain of commuting and reducing burnout.
While not all patients or conditions can be treated remotely, the use cases for telehealth are growing allowing thinly spread physicians to work more efficiently without sacrificing quality of care. By leveraging telehealth technologies to optimize doctors’ and other caregivers’ time, healthcare providers are able to increase the number of patients they are able to treat, reduce wait times for appointments, and at least partially offset the shortage of physicians.
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