The patient-provider relationship is a sacred bond that has existed since the dawn of healthcare. The trust and responsibility placed on the provider by the patient to heal and act with their best interest in mind remains at the core of this relationship even in the modern age of healthcare.
With the introduction of new video technology to this relationship many providers are beginning to wonder if it is in the best interest of their patients to introduce a technological intermediary. They wonder if telemedicine is a threat or an aid to the quality of care they can provide to a patient. Looking at those who have begun to utilize telemedicine with their patients we can observe the effect this new technology is having on the age old bond of patient and provider.
In a 2016 study published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine it was found that patients were reporting higher levels of satisfaction with telemedicine visits compared to traditional visits at no cost to clinical effectiveness. The driving factor behind these results was the improved access to care resulting in reduced wait and travel times for participants receiving care over video. The benefits for patients are immense when it comes to offering video visits in terms of the convenience and flexibility it brings to their appointments. Video platforms are becoming increasingly better at simulating the office visit, offering features ranging from customized waiting rooms where patients can see their spot in line in a “virtual” queue to online access to paperwork that usually would be filled out in the office. Empowering patients to have increased control over the flow of their visits is a great way for providers to show they value their patient’s time and are committed to seeing them no matter time or physical constraints.
The influence telemedicine may have over the future of the visit is resounding. In a 2014 study conducted by the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, it was found that not only were patients satisfied with the service, but 95% said they wanted to continue receiving care via telemedicine as opposed to an in person visit. It was recorded in this study that patient savings netted $48,000 because of the reduced need to travel from rural locations to the VA. For specialists and primary care providers alike these studies show a rising trend in patients who will have a demand for video enabled visits because of the added convenience and time savings it gives them. Once a patient is enabled to use telemedicine for specialty care it is only a matter of time before they desire it for their other areas of care as well.
While these early studies are telling, one question remains--can video visits really substitute for the experience of actually having a patient in the office? Providers seem to have a gut feeling that when they see a patient over video they are somehow providing a lower quality of care or making the visit less personal. It is important to remember that telemedicine does not aim to destroy the patient-physician relationship, but rather operate as a supplement. Telemedicine is an extension of the provider, allowing the patient provider relationship to grow by enabling visits that may otherwise not have happened.
By offering patients the option to utilize telemedicine for visits, providers are taking their relationship into the modern age, and utilizing video technology to deliver a new age of house calls. This is a transformation of the patient relationship, is moving medicine into the age of on demand consumers. Patients appear to be warmly embracing the convenience that video visits can add to their lives. It is now up to providers to respond and foster in a new age of visits, revolutionizing their relationships with patients to be more accessible and flexible.