5 Ways Telehealth is Democratizing Access to Healthcare
Esteban López MD, Americas Market Lead of Healthcare and Life Sciences with Google Cloud
Cynthia Horner MD, Medical Director, Amwell
According to a National Academy of Medicine discussion paper, social determinants of health (SDoH) account for upwards of 80% of a population’s health outcomes. Breaking this down further, 50% come just from socioeconomic and physical environment factors such as education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety, air and water quality, and access to housing and transit. SDoH determine access to and quality of healthcare, and are contributors to a system of disparate access to care.
We believe that to more efficiently provide comprehensive healthcare access to more people, providers will leverage technology to blend in-person and virtual modes of care delivery.
In this article, Amwell and Google Cloud examine five ways telehealth – as part of a provider’s overall care model – can help democratize access to healthcare.
Remove distance as a barrier to care
8.6 million Americans live more than 30 minutes from their nearest hospital. Long drives can deter patients from seeking care or maintaining routine visits. On the flip side, 92% of Americans nationwide have access to wired broadband in the home or through mobile broadband. Therefore, having a virtual visit just a click away can help remove barriers to care, like distance.
Eliminate the risk of unnecessary exposure
Virtual care means that patients don’t have to worry about potential exposure in transit, while sitting in waiting rooms, or from direct interactions during in-person health visits. This is particularly relevant when it comes to those with chronic diseases or underlying conditions. Telehealth provides patients who may be more susceptible to diseases with access to continuous healthcare without putting them at higher risk for developing more severe symptoms. Virtual visits can occur in the comfort –and safety– of patients’ homes.
Extend access to specialized care
55% of preventable hospitalization or mortality in rural settings is due to lack of access to specialty care. With telehealth, physical proximity to specialized services–typically in urban areas–can be reduced as a limiting factor. Virtual solutions grant everyone access to top specialists, regardless of location.
Save time and money
By augmenting in-person visits with telehealth applications, providers can benefit from greater efficiencies in scheduling, helping to improve their bottom line, and add more flexibility to their workday. Meanwhile, patients can spend less on travel and childcare, limit time taken off work, and save on other costs associated with in-person visits — for a savings of $35 to $690 per visit. In a survey by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, 76% of the 2,000+ patients surveyed across the US responded that transportation was removed as a barrier, 65% reported they no longer had to take time off from work for an appointment, and 67% reporting lower costs than an in-person visit.
Combat physician shortage and fatigue
Research shows there will be a shortage of more than 100,000 doctors by 2030. In the midst of a physician shortage, telehealth can help improve care delivery and make it more efficient, ensuring more people can still have their healthcare needs addressed. Additionally, by integrating intelligence such as case triaging along with telehealth into a virtual care model, providers can help reduce clinician burnout.
Amwell and Google Cloud are partnering to deliver transformative telehealth solutions that will make it easier for more patients to receive care and improve patient and clinician experiences across the continuum of care. One example includes embedding real-time captioning and translation services powered by Google Cloud’s AI and NLP technologies within the Amwell platform to increase health access and understanding for more people.
As physicians, we are excited that the future of healthcare will continue to blend cloud technologies like EHR-integrated telehealth platforms, AI, healthcare-trained virtual agents along with in-person care to create an integrated hybrid care model that will improve patient outcomes and unburden providers, all while expanding access to broader patient populations.
This article was originally published on the Google Cloud.