Why specialty health care should go virtual

“Let’s take a look together,” was the start of a virtual clinical assessment that led to a primary care provider and a neurologist diagnosing a patient with Parkinson’s Disease. As the neurologist in that conversation, I had the opportunity to play a meaningful role in delivering my expertise and, most importantly, making sure the patient received the highest level of appropriate care. With telemedicine’s support, both providers – and the patient – were able to assess this life-changing diagnosis through a video consultation, develop a disease management plan by phone, and participate in virtual follow-ups organized through HIPAA-compliant secure text messaging.

As an active telemedicine neurologist, I know first-hand about the value of using virtual communication to reach patients where they are; this includes those among targeted populations and in hard-to-reach locations. Delivering the best possible care is every providers’ goal. However, access to health care isn’t always a reality, especially when it comes to specialty care.

Through the right telehealth tools, providers can “phone a friend” in real-time during an appointment should there be questions about a patient’s cognitive assessment, or other specialty-related needs. This real-time, provider-to-provider connectivity is invaluable to delivering life-changing outcomes for patients. Integrated, easy-to-use communication solutions can lead to better practice management, too. Here are a few key considerations that support the implementation of telehealth across primary and specialty practices alike:

  • Get expert or second opinions from specialists that may or may not be billable.
  • Add a personal touch to day-to-day communications by replacing phone calls, faxes, and voicemails with modern, digital communications based on patient and staff preferences.
  • Efficiently conduct appointments that may not be billable, but would normally require an office visit, like post-surgical follow-ups or routine check-ups.
  • Answer questions or consult on minor illnesses or injuries that do not necessarily require an in-person visit.

Between 2014 and 2018, telehealth usage outside of hospitals went up almost 1,400 percent, according to a study by the nonprofit FAIR Health. This growth is due in large part to patient demand. A 2017 patient survey found that two-thirds of health care consumers would prefer seeing a doctor via virtual visits. So, as we enter a new decade, one thing is certain: the future of health care includes a heavy reliance on virtual collaboration and care.

For me, adopting a HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solution offered a fast, effective, and efficient way to maximize my time with patients and fellow physicians. From workflow efficiencies to better care, the right solutions enable practices to improve care coordination, patient adherence checks, and chronic care management activities to support a much broader array of patients in a greater variety of clinical situations.

By streamlining communication with providers and patients through video chat and secure SMS, I can deliver guidance from a neurological, clinical perspective without being in the exam room. Sometimes, that specialty assessment could otherwise take weeks to receive, or maybe not at all.

With the right tools, providers across primary and specialty experiences can collaborate and deliver better patient care for those who live with life-threatening or life-alternating conditions. Virtualizing specialty care has the opportunity to benefit those who need it most, while allowing providers to continue changing people’s lives through patient-first health care.

Andrew Barbash is a neurologist

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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