Radiology, psychiatry, and cardiology are three specialties leading the use of telehealth with patients. But the majority of specialists have been slow to adopt telehealth and telemedicine in their practices.
Radiologists were early adopters of the store and forward telehealth technology, given these physicians’ need to review and report on images such as X-ray, ultrasound, and CT scans. And, given the high tech nature of their specialty, cardiologists were some of the first specialists to use remote patient monitoring to review patient biometric data streaming from implanted and wearable devices. If you aren’t familiar with telehealth terms like these, read our recent blogs about the two forms of telemedicine: asynchronous and synchronous.
Despite these use cases, the majority of specialties have been slow to integrate telehealth into practice. The reasons vary from implementation and reimbursement complexities to the slow pace of change in healthcare and cost considerations. But the advent of new CPT codes for virtual visits and remote patient monitoring, an increase in the number of payors who reimburse for telehealth, and patient demand for the convenience and access have begun to change the landscape of virtual visits and remote care.
Here are some ways that telehealth could be used in specialties to improve patient convenience, follow up, medication management, and condition monitoring.
Psychiatry and Mental Health
Psychiatry is already in the top three specialties using telehealth in patient care; according to AMA research published in Health Affairs, 28% of psychiatrists use telehealth to interact with patients. But that still leaves a lot of opportunity for patients who need to be seen and have their medications managed virtually. The fact that rural areas have the highest rates of suicide and the fewest numbers of mental health resources, telemedicine in these specialties could quite literally be a lifesaver for many.
Anxiety, bipolar disorder, bulimia, depression, panic attacks, addiction, PDSD, and many other conditions are ripe for treatment using telehealth. Plus, enabling people to be seen at home, in private, can increase compliance with being seen and ensure patients are taking their medications and managing their care appropriately.
Pregnancy questions, the management of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, pre- and postpartum nutrition, weight loss, and breastfeeding can all be handled using a video visit instead of requiring moms to show up at the doctor’s office throughout their pregnancy and postpartum care. Especially in the final weeks of pregnancy when travel is uncomfortable, virtual visits can be a welcome relief to patients.
Imagine the increased opportunity to treat menopause symptoms, educate women about hormone replacement therapy options, and support patients through life transitions, menopausal stress management, depression, and insomnia. Many of these issues go untreated or are handled by primary care physicians. The specialty of gynecology is well-positioned to offer support for these issues, which could be done by a mid-level provider in the practice. In many cases the visits are reimbursed by patient insurance.
According to Amwell, 88% of patients with existing neurological conditions prefer follow-up by video, and studies show that telehealth offers promising remote care for patients with epilepsy, ALS, and other neurological conditions. Teleneurology can address neuromuscular conditions, headaches, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.
If telehealth were an option when I was a practicing pediatrician, it would have significantly reduced the time my nurses and I spent talking new parents off the ledge and seeing them in clinic for things that could have been handled more conveniently on their mobile device or tablet. All without taking time off work or dragging a feverish, unhappy child into my office. One of the biggest advantages of offering telehealth services in pediatrics is reducing the anxiety of parents. So often they are simply looking for reassurance that their child’s condition is treatable and not too serious.
Pink eye, rashes, ear pain, sore throat, and other common conditions for kids can be handled by a video visit and an e-prescription to the pharmacy. Most often, mid-level providers and well-trained nurses can handle these telehealth visits.
Post-op care is top of mind on this one, as I’m aware of several orthopedic surgeons and departments that have been successful at offering telehealth for routine post-op wound checks and care. Given how busy most orthopedic surgeons’ appointment schedules are, telehealth visits are a welcome solution to reducing post-op visits and opening up slots for patients who truly need to be seen in the office. Telehealth is also being used in orthopedics for sports medicine - for instance, by enabling a surgeon to consult with coaches and athletic trainers about on-the-field injuries and reduce unneeded visits to the emergency department.