Chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, plague more than 40% of Americans (National Health Council). Treating and managing these diseases often requires weekly, if not daily, scheduled medical appointments. In between planned appointments, patients often end up in emergency rooms or urgent care due to complications. In fact, people with chronic issues account for 3/4 of all physician visits (Urology of Virginia), plus 80% of hospital admissions and 81% of readmissions (Pexip White Paper). Management of chronic care is called “illness work” (BMC Public Health). Illness work includes endless appointments, time off of work, commute through traffic to the medical office, explanations to family and friends, and at-home care. Many people with chronic illness take on average two hours a day to manage their condition (BMC Public Health). The nonstop nature of chronic disease management induces mental and physical stress for patients.
COVID-19 and Chronic Conditions
The COVID-19 pandemic placed an additional burden on people with chronic diseases. Medical offices and hospitals posed an extra threat to the safety of people with weakened immune systems. Necessary doctor visits seemed too dangerous, despite the need to speak with a provider or receive medical treatment. Telehealth became a safe alternative to in-person appointments for both providers and patients, especially those with chronic conditions. Further, virtual appointments eased strain for patients. Patients took calls from the comfort of their home rather than traveling to a medical office, waiting in a waiting room, and taking extended time off of work.
Telehealth as an Alternative
Research proves telehealth is a successful alternative to in-person medical appointments. While telehealth cannot replace in-person treatments, such as chemotherapy or dialysis, telehealth can replace remote patient-provider check-ins. Through regular check-ins, providers can continue the monitoring of patient’s health thereby reducing urgent care visits and readmittance (Pexip White Paper). Providers can give more regular guidance, preventing unnecessary trips to the emergency room. Additional research from The Department of Veterans Affairs found a 20% decrease in readmittance with the use of telehealth (Pexip White Paper). This is especially important as “patients with chronic conditions account for four of every five hospital readmissions” (Pexip White Paper). Telehealth is not only an alternative but a better option for many patients.
Benefits for Providers
Telehealth benefits the patient and the care team. Transitioning from in-person to telehealth appointments greatly reduces the burden on care teams. Instead of running from room to room, following sanitization protocol, and dealing with the distractions of the office, providers can remain in one place, focused on each patient. With a streamlined care system, providers are more present in telehealth visits, bettering the quality of care and health outcomes (Corbett, Opladen, Bisognanob). However, the telehealth platform must ease the work of providers, not add to their daily duties. Healthcare systems must devise a digital strategy for choosing and implementing a new telehealth platform. Interoperability is key. Telehealth integration with existing technology ensures providers can easily learn the new platform and quickly improve their performance.
Improved Health Literacy
Provider’s increased time and focus through telehealth also leads to improved patient and family health literacy. People with chronic conditions often have extensive at-home care plans to improve their health and reduce emergencies. Poor adherence to care plans and prescription usage is often the fault of inadequate training. When in person, providers do not always have the time to walk through a care plan. Or, a patient may be overwhelmed in the office and forget by the time they return home. Through regular virtual visits, providers can check that patients understand the care plan, take their prescriptions properly, and maintain their health (Corbett, Opladen, Bisognanob). By taking a call at home, patients can bring their family into the call, improve health literacy for the family, and learn in the location where they will be implementing their care plan.
Helpful for the Majority
Telehealth cannot service all chronic conditions; however, a majority of chronic conditions can benefit from virtual care appointments. Through reducing the stress on a patient, streamlining the care process for the provider, and improving patient health outcomes, telehealth humanizes healthcare.