Patients place higher importance on cost rather than in-person health care, according to a survey released last week. Some 98 percent of 1,723 surveyed Americans said they would prefer to receive health care from remote “robot” doctors if such treatment lowered health care costs, even though the majority of respondents also prefer in-person visits and human interaction with their physicians.
Telehealth has a ways to go before it solves that juxtaposition — patients’ desire for cost-effective care and their preference for a relationship with their physicians. That said, it’s hard to argue remote care is changing the health care industry now. When removed from direct contact, medical professionals can make a clearer decision on the best treatment for patients. Advocate Health Care established an electronic intensive care unit and observed as nurses cut down on main-line infections and saved the hospital $150,000 in 2010 compared to the previous two years.
This survey referred more to interactive telemedicine, which allows doctors and patients to discuss a patient’s health through methods such as video conferencing, cutting down on travel. Patients aren’t the only ones who benefit from increasing telehealth practices. Health care facilities can also save money by practicing remote patient monitoring and interactive telemedicine. Remote patient monitoring allows hospitals to observe patients while they remain in their homes, which saves money and space for the health care facility. Three million patients in England were encouraged to self-monitor using telehealth practices. Such treatment was estimated to save the National Health Service roughly $1.5 billion over a five-year period.
Insurers’ reluctance to reimburse healthcare providers for telehealth services remains a key barrier to its use. Medicare approves of reimbursement, but many private insurance companies do not. Patients don’t opt for telehealth because their insurance companies won’t pay providers for remote care. While advancements in technology and cooperation from health care facilities have made patients’ wishes possible, they won’t be realized until payment reform models support viable alternatives to traditional face-to-face care.