Telehealth experienced a surge in use during the COVID-19 global pandemic. According to McKinsey, consumer interest in telemedicine rose from 11% to 76% during the pandemic. In addition, 57% of healthcare providers said they viewed telemedicine more favorably, and 64% of providers said they were comfortable using telemedicine. In the course of just a few months, telemedicine physician visits increased by 50% to 175%, depending on geography and type of practice. The popularity of telehealth has continued to grow post-pandemic.
“Telehealth has become a useful resource in the workers’ compensation arena,” said Lisa Haug, assistant vice president of medical management at Safety National. “However, it is essential to perform a good hands-on assessment by a specialist or physical therapy provider for the initial treatment or visit, then transition to telehealth. It is imperative to assess the overall well-being of the individual in a brick-and-mortar environment, because it is extremely difficult to effectively assess movement via telehealth, for example, seeing how the patient transitions from sit to stand, how they move about the room, their range of motion and overall well-being.”
The following are advantages and disadvantages of telehealth.
- Immediate triage, assessment and diagnosis of a workplace injury or illness, acceleration of diagnosis and treatment plan, increased adherence, speed of recovery and improved outcomes.
- Efficient and personalized treatment.
- Time savings by eliminating trips to the ER, urgent care, clinic or provider’s office.
- Same licensing standards for physicians as in brick-and-mortar setting, and they must be licensed in that particular state to practice via telehealth.
- Convenient access for injured workers in rural areas that may not have healthcare entities nearby. This helps to avoid the transportation issue of showing up for doctor’s visits.
- Easy ability to perform physical therapy, including home exercise program via telehealth.
- Early intervention of therapy without delay due to access to the therapy facility and transportation issues.
- Potential of earlier return to work for many.
- Better access to clinicians, including infectious disease specialists and pulmonologists for respiratory conditions. Prior to COVID, it was rare to make a referral to these types of specialists, but, with the onset of COVID, these referrals became more commonplace.
- If there are language barriers, patients can align with a translator via telehealth, which is oftentimes easier than arranging for a translator at the appointment.
- Many areas have a shortage of specialists, such as dermatologists. With cross-licensing, we can offer a provider from a larger geographical space via telehealth.
- Reduced wait time for telehealth, which reduces time away from home/office.
- Earlier treatment intervention, which allows for the ability to prescribe treatment sooner for items like medications, physical therapy, durable medical equipment and diagnostics.
- Ability to empower employees to use technology and take a more active role in their care.
- Lack of in-person experience. Severe injuries and diagnoses require physical hands-on assessment with the patient.
- Potential for inaccurate diagnosis based on video. Some diagnoses require a hands-on visual component.
- Initial PT evaluation and final PT evaluation/FCE need to be in person for a thorough assessment.
- Limitations for assessing body image, gait and overall well-being, which can tell a lot about a patient’s status.
- Poor patient perception. Some patients feel that they are not getting the proper care with telehealth.
As a resource, telehealth is here to stay. If used properly, it is another tool in the toolbox to allow the continuation of treatment for injured workers. The key is knowing when and when not to use it.