Telehealth versus Telemedicine and the role your scheduling software plays

The year 2020 brought telehealth and telemedicine to the forefront of healthcare. In fact, the latest estimates predict that virtual care visits will exceed one billion in 2020. While both have existed in some capacity for decades, the unique challenges faced in the healthcare industry this year have made the virtual healthcare environment more mainstream than ever before.

Many differences exist between telehealth and telemedicine, but both can be performed effectively while addressing the healthcare deficit, and high-performing scheduling software can help streamline the delivery of telemedicine and telehealth services.

What is the difference?

Telehealth is a broad term that refers to any medical support or communication provided to patients from a distance or in a remote capacity. This can include scheduling appointments, ordering prescription refills, making lab results available to patients and providing support for referrals. Telehealth is not a service but an attempt to improve patient care and communication between the patient and the provider’s office.

Examples of telehealth include patients’ ability to make an appointment online or directly message their provider’s office staff. If a patient has a question about a symptom, they can log into the patient portal and quickly send the office a message. Staff can then give a simple answer via the portal or direct the patient to make an appointment to be seen in person or virtually. Nurse on-call is another telehealth offering, where patients can chat with a nurse after hours for medical advice. Many telehealth offerings do not involve a medical provider at all (and therefore are not billable). In fact, many telehealth offerings do not even involve patients. Telehealth can also refer to services like staff training, continuing medical education and provider credentialing.

Telemedicine, on the other hand, is a service that is meant to provide individualized care to a patient through an encounter that is accomplished using audio and video support. The virtual appointment does not differ a lot from a face-to-face appointment. The provider and patient can still have a real-time conversation, the provider can evaluate the patient with some limited aspects of the physical exam and the patient has the chance to ask questions.

Telemedicine services are billable and are recognized by Medicare as a reimbursable service, as long as the service meets certain federal guidelines in regards to safety and quality. In many remote areas, telemedicine has increased access to healthcare providers that many patients would have gone without. Rural areas often have a shortage of specialists, and telemedicine is quickly making this less of a barrier to care for patients.

Key elements of telemedicine

It is important to realize that a telemedicine encounter must incorporate the same aspects of care as an in-person visit to be effective. Providers must still conduct a detailed history and review of systems. They must still perform and document a physical exam, although it may be somewhat limited by the patient’s remote location. Providers must also consider diagnosis and differential diagnoses, and then prescribe a treatment. Additionally, they are still responsible for patient education – if anything, it is more important in the virtual health encounter to spend time on education to ensure the patient understands the treatment plan.

All of this can be time-consuming, so providers’ schedules have to accommodate virtual visits. Many providers like a balance of in-person and virtual visits, so it is imperative that a scheduling software solution can differentiate the two and be flexible when assigning time blocks for appointments.

The effectiveness of many organizations’ scheduling software was recently put to the test during the COVID-19 crisis. Many medical services were canceled or delayed in an attempt to protect crucial healthcare resources and respect social distancing guidelines. As a result, this has created a healthcare deficit.

Those patient needs that were delayed did not just disappear, and now that some restrictions are being lifted, patients are trying to catch up with appointments and procedures. Many offices are finding themselves overwhelmed with requests for virtual appointments, prescription refills, orders for procedures and testing, and prior approvals. The last thing an office needs when demand is so high is a scheduling system that is not flexible and is difficult to use. If office staff is spending hours making changes to schedules, it is time for a change.

How can your scheduling software streamline the delivery of telemedicine?

First and foremost, your scheduling solution must meet the unique demands of your organization. Whether you are a small physician group, or a major health system with thousands of providers spread across multiple locations, Intrigma has scheduling software to meet your needs. Intrigma’s software is innovative, flexible and can be manipulated quickly if the needs of your organization change.

Intrigma customers found this scheduling technology and flexibility essential during COVID-19. When a surge in virtual visits occurred, that translated into understaffed clinics, overworked providers and less patient care. With Intrigma’s scheduling software, providers were able to swap shifts and pick up empty shifts efficiently to close the gap and provide patients with proper care. Additionally, providers who were working from home needed to have real-time access to the schedule without coming into the office, and Intrigma’s mobile app reminded them of shifts and important announcements so miscommunication was easily avoided. Having a scheduling software that does not support flexibility like this can put patients at risk and unnecessarily stress out providers.

Providers also find Intrigma easy to use and voice their satisfaction in being able to participate in building their own schedules while meeting patient needs – this is a big driver behind provider satisfaction.

Scheduling is complicated, and telehealth and telemedicine add more complexity. There are many details that need to be considered, and without innovative software, this task can be time-consuming and costly to the organization. Don’t let patients fall through the cracks and go without care because of scheduling glitches. If your organization is considering a change in scheduling software, the time is now. Patients depend on their healthcare experts, and experts need a scheduling solution that is dependable as well. Contact Intrigma to get started.

 

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