Access to telehealth is vital to the well-being and quality of life of individuals in every community in America. Advances in technology combined with patients’ demands for improved access to care have led to millions more people using telehealth to see their providers, get prescriptions, and manage their health. This trend accelerated exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
ACCESS TO TELEHEALTH SUPPORTS:
Better Health Outcomes
High-quality care can be delivered through telehealth, backed by years of research and real-world evidence. Most clinicians in several specialty areas – including primary care and complex care – believe telehealth enables them to provide quality care.
Telehealth helps patients and their providers better monitor and treat conditions — keeping more patients healthy and out of the emergency department and hospital. A study conducted in July 2021 found about one in seven individuals who reported having a telehealth visit would have otherwise sought care in an emergency room or urgent care if telehealth was not available. Another study found access to neonatal telehealth reduced hospital transfers by nearly 30 percent. Further, according to a recent study, telehealth mental health services are proven to generate positive outcomes, including treatment engagement, care retention, and patient satisfaction, leading to improved long-term health outcomes.
Better Quality of Life for Patients & Improved Environment for All
Telehealth can dramatically improve quality of life, including for seniors, individuals with chronic conditions, and those living in rural communities with long driving distances to health care providers. In addition, people living in underserved communities that may not have access to broadband can also benefit from access to telehealth services.
One study of 100 patients with diabetes found that access to telehealth resources saved those patients more than 9,500 miles of driving in just six months. The driving time saved by telehealth patients has the added value of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. An estimated 5,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions are avoided for every one million virtual visits.
Greater Health Equity
One of the disturbing realities about the U.S. health care system today is that zip codes often determine health outcomes and overall life expectancy.
While broadband investment is needed to address the digital divide, telehealth has long been considered a significant social equalizer, eliminating travel time and distance and allowing clinicians and specialists to serve the current unmet needs of underserved communities, communities of color, seniors and hard to access parts of rural America. In fact, individuals residing in low-income regions accounted for 47 percent of all telehealth visits in January and February 2020 and 50 percent of all visits in April 2020.
More Patient and Caregiver Choice
Telehealth improves access to health care providers, especially primary care physicians and specialists like mental health providers, cardiologists, and oncology experts. This offers patients and caregivers greater opportunity to choose care options that work best for them rather than having specialty care limited to providers within a driving distance.
Telehealth creates an equitable option to top specialty-level care regardless of a patient’s geographic location. Health care providers also report that virtual care has had a positive impact on patient participation in care and provider efficiency. A survey of individuals at a primary and specialty care clinic found that no-show rates for telehealth visits during the pandemic (7.5 percent) were significantly lower than no-show rates for in-office visits, both during the pandemic (36.1 percent) and before the pandemic (29.8 percent).
Telehealth is shown to be a cost-saver for the health care system and patients.
A recent analysis found telehealth expands access to health care without increased costs to taxpayers, with average patients utilizing telehealth seeing a 61 percent decrease in health care expenses from January 2020 to February 2021. Another analysis of stroke treatment in one network of 137 hospitals found the availability of telehealth services resulted in a savings of $3.5 million — for just that one diagnosis. Further, one recent study found telehealth tools helped cut hospital emergency department costs by more than 30 percent and a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine found each time a patient has a telehealth visit, it can save as much as $19 to $121.
Expanded access to telehealth has particularly empowered seniors by giving them more control over their health care, better health outcomes, and improved quality of life. In a recent study, adults age 65 and over were most likely to have had a telehealth visit in the past year compared to those under 30.
As a result of important pandemic-related actions taken by Congress and federal health agencies, seniors – many for the first time – gained access to high-quality virtual care. Health care organizations across the nation have dramatically transformed and made significant investments in new technologies, not only to meet the demands of COVID-19, but as an investment in the future of America’s health care system.
A 2021 study indicated that more than one in four Medicare beneficiaries took advantage of a telehealth visit, and seniors who have had a telehealth experience overwhelmingly find it to be of value. According to a report from The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), “91 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were satisfied with their video visits and 92 percent were satisfied with their phone visits” over the last year — outpacing seniors’ satisfaction with other aspects of their health care.
Patients have come to rely on telehealth. According to a recent national survey, more than nine in 10 adults were satisfied with the quality of their telehealth visit, and eight in 10 adults say they will use telehealth in the future. Protecting and expanding access to these vital services is critical to strengthening the health care future of every community in America.