The Covid-19 health crisis showed everyone in healthcare that telehealth can be a viable alternative to in-person care. Especially patients, for the most part, enjoyed the convenience that telehealth has to offer and would prefer not to go back to the arduous and time consuming in-person care, especially for mundane things like the review of test results.

Here are five reasons why healthcare leaders should seriously consider devoting resources to create a more wide spread, long term adoption of telehealth in their organization.

(1) Unprecedented Non-Traditional Competition

I’ll start with the most dire reason first: The long term survivability of rural healthcare organizations is currently severely threatened by a large influx of non-traditional competitors, with deep pockets, a profit-driven mentality, and a long-standing culture of innovation and agility.

As many readers will have heard by now, some of the household names going after “your” patients are Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, CVS, and, most recently, Dollar General. Other non-traditional competition includes the venture-capital funded telemedicine service companies such as AmWell, Teladoc, MDLive, and Doctor on Demand, just to name a few.

While there is no guarantee that they will succeed, chances are good that some of them, especially those with a company culture that excels at iterative problem solving, will eventually find those niches that find them riches.

Since these companies do not have a mandate to serve all patients, they can afford the luxury to hone in on those patient populations that offer the greatest value — which oftentimes are the same patients that make the business model of rural healthcare organizations sustainable.

This all would be no problem if patients were fiercely loyal to their traditional, local healthcare provider. But with convenience and value driven most patient’s care decisions (vs. quality and confidence), the modern healthcare consumer will focus on those services that are quick, convenient and cheap.

(2) Financial Sustainability Starts With Patient Satisfaction

Healthcare is no longer serving patients. Healthcare is now by and large serving healthcare consumers — informed, educated buyers of healthcare services that seek confidence, convenience, quality, and value.

When I spent 12 years at the Mayo Clinic learning the ropes of excellent coordinated care delivery, not a week passed by without having used or heard the Mayo Clinic mantra that “The needs of the patient’s come first.” The origin of that quote comes from one of the Mayo brothers, Dr. Will, who said in 1910: “The best interest of the patient is the only interest to be considered.”

As we now know very well in our consumer-driven, service-focused world, if organizations do not pay attention to what the customer wants, they are quick to fail. Only that until recently, oftentimes patients did not have any alternative choices, especially when it comes to convenience.

Thus it is in the best financial interest of healthcare organizations to ensure that they can deliver the convenient access that many patients/modern healthcare consumers are expecting.

(3) Telehealth is Superb Tactical Tool

Many healthcare leaders are experiencing the challenge of keeping on top with all their strategic objectives, trying to move the needle into the right direction on all of them, even with the severely limited resources they have. And telehealth may appear as “one more thing we need to do”.

But it does not have to be that way. In reality, telehealth is not an end to itself, but rather can be leveraged as a tactical tool (a Swiss Army Knife, if you will) that can help an organization to achieve many of its objectives.

Just to name a few

  • retain staff through redesigned workflows
  • attract clinicians by offering flexible on-site requirements and allowing telework
  • increase geographic reach
  • reduce no shows and cancellations
  • increase productivity
  • expand community partnerships

For more information see how telehealth can create strategic success.

(4) The Clinical Efficacy Has Been Proven

Over the past decades, numerous clinical studies have proven that under many circumstances care delivered “at a distance” can be just as effective, and occasionally even more effective, as in-person care. Is telehealth always equivalent? Of course not. Rarely is any medical procedure, treatment or test superior all the time and telehealth is no different.

One key argument for telehealth is that a telehealth visit beats no visit any time. So much of high quality outcomes is dependent on the continuity of care, of proper communication between clinicians and continuous conversations with the patient, to engage them in their care.

A no-show or cancelled appointment is not only a potential revenue loss for the organization, it is also a lost opportunity to help patients get well and stay well.

While some studies have questioned the efficacy of telehealth, these studies also rarely examine the efficacy of in-person visits, making it questionable as to what the motivation behind the study really was.

Bottom line is that in the hands of a capable clinician, telehealth is a great clinical tool that can improve outcomes.

(5) A Clever Way to Design Better Care Delivery

Experienced successful leaders know that managing change is very hard and that in order to get the organization’s buy-in, you need to offer something exciting, something enticing – ideally something the people in the organization want.

Many rural healthcare organizations have worked under the same leadership for decades, or they’ve been on long-term survival mode for many years. In this conservative environment that is quite averse and resistant to change, starting any conversation about continuous improvement or the redesign of existing processes is often futile.

In the wake of the Covid-19 health crisis and with a rising awareness by staff that the current financial model of their organization may not be indefinitely sustainable, Telehealth can act as a catalyst, as a “new shiny object” that can energize people.

When used cleverly, the formal integration of telehealth into the care delivery process, alongside in-person care, can be used to redesign the overall care delivery experience, including antiquated or suboptimal in-person care delivery processes.

Once people have experienced change (and found it not as bad as they had feared) it is much easier to take the momentum and apply it to other processes, beyond telehealth.

A final word

Telehealth is here to stay, patients are demanding it and innovative new players are satisfying that demand. If rural healthcare organizations want to stay in business, they have to leverage the benefits that telehealth has to offer.

While broadband connectivity and digital literacy in rural areas are often far below their urban counterparts, this does not mean that patients cannot access care. Our human ingenuity easily creates clever solutions when patients are motivated to not have to drive 30 min to see their physician and will find ways to get connected — just like patients have found ways in the past to get to the clinic, even if they did not have any transportation.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

To receive articles like these in your Inbox every week, you can subscribe to Christian’s Telehealth Tuesday Newsletter.

Subscribe to Telehealth Tuesday

Christian Milaster and his team optimize Telehealth Services for health systems and physician practices. Christian is the Founder and President of Ingenium Digital Health Advisors where he and his expert consortium partner with healthcare leaders to enable the delivery of extraordinary care.

Contact Christian by phone or text at 657-464-3648, via email, or video chat.