Help doctors reduce costs, retain patients, and take fewer after hours calls on their own
By Charu G. Raheja, PhD and Ravi K Raheja, MD
In the new world where patients are requesting on-demand access to doctors and healthcare providers, how can offices or hospitals remain competitive and provide access to healthcare 24/7? The past two years have seen a proliferation of telemedicine, including on-demand physicians that evaluate and prescribe over the phone. Various market research companies predict a growth rate between 15 and 25 percent a year, and according to research analysts and companies, such as Zion Research, the United States’ telemedicine market is expected to reach approximately $35 billion by 2020.
The results are not surprising. Limited access to physicians and caregivers has been a common complaint among consumers. Year after year, emergency departments continue to see patients that should have been handled by family doctors or other outpatient clinics. Some of these patients are now opting to speak to a telemedicine doctor – even if that doctor is not their established doctor – in the hopes of avoiding an unnecessary ER visit.
From the point of view of the patient, both going to the ER and speaking to a telemedicine doctor are reasonable when no other options are available. Imagine, for example, a mother with a newborn that has a low-grade fever or a sixty-five year-old man who is coughing up blood. How do they decide if the symptoms require an emergency visit or if it’s okay to wait until the next business day for the doctor’s office to open? The solution for physicians is twofold: implement technology to ease the patient’s access to offices and make sure the patient has access to a healthcare partner at all times.
The goal of technology is to allow patients to text and communicate with the office using a smartphone app instead of having to leave a message with a front desk and waiting for a callback. Being able to text simple issues such as appointment requests or medication questions gives patients the freedom to go about their day and conveniently keep a lookout for the office’s response. For the office staff this also gives the added advantage of being able to prioritize their responses to the patients. Texting back also guarantees contact with the patient, which saves the staff from wasting time with missed phone calls. Call centers can help doctors by offering them such apps and solutions to improve the patient experience.
As for having a healthcare partner available, a nurse triage line is a great solution for offices where doctors don’t want to take the responsibility of handling all the calls on nights and weekends. Triage nurses are able to handle over 80 percent of the calls without the need to contact a doctor. Having nurses available gives patients the comfort of knowing they have an option through their provider when a health symptom surfaces. For a patient, an emergency is anytime he or she doesn’t feel well. Having a trained nurse who works directly with their doctor’s office can provide them with needed reassurance, prevent further complications, save them from an unnecessary ER visit, and ensure continuity of care.
Charu G. Raheja, PhD is the chair and CEO of the TriageLogic Group. Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and Medical Director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-lead provider of high quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com.