ORLANDO, Fla. – A looming “silver tsunami” of baby boomers could cause a shortage of up to 120,000 physicians by 2030 in the U.S., according to data published recently by the Association of American Medical Colleges. James Levasseur, president and co-founder of telehealth platform provider First Choice Telehealth Solutions, believes that digital technology can help bridge the coming gap in care.
HHTN: How can telehealth address the coming shortage of physicians and specialists?
LEVASSEUR:Used properly, telehealth can save time with scheduling, record keeping, record sharing and referrals to other providers, as well as the logistics of physically getting the patient and provider in the same room at the same time. Although the amount of time for each of these actions may not seem substantial, cumulatively, the time can add up to be quite substantial.
Telehealth can also open up a wide selection of available providers from across an entire state and can address physician burnout. Additionally, a well-designed telehealth initiative can reduce costs while allowing increased provider reimbursement, and can expand the reach of provider services when nurse practitioners and physician assistants are trained to use telehealth.
HHTN:What are some of the biggest challenges to a wider embrace of telehealth by physicians?
LEVASSEUR:The biggest challenge is ignorance. Most providers still have not tried telehealth and/or were never taught to use telehealth, but as more medical schools incorporate telehealth into their curriculum, more providers will feel comfortable with using it.
The second biggest challenge is lack of support. Many physicians would consider using telehealth if they had the support that they need every step of the way, from choosing software to learning rules, regulations and best practices. Knowing when and how to use telehealth as an appropriate alternative is not rocket science but many providers, already feeling overwhelmed with demands, cannot find the time or energy to take on such a project while they are struggling to remain afloat and successful in the ever-changing health care marketplace. There is also a misperception that telehealth will not be reimbursed. While reimbursement varies widely from state to state and among the insurer entities, a well-designed business plan and the correct administrative protocols can make telehealth profitable.
HHTN:Do you think baby boomers are open to using telehealth?
LEVASSEUR:Baby boomers vary widely in their comfort level with using technology, and that applies to both patients and providers. For many, the issue is not ability but motivation. We have found that each patient and each provider needs a different level of support to adopt the use of telehealth. If telehealth companies expect widespread adoption the smart money is on companies that will take the time to assure that each user is comfortable with the technology and fully understands their options.
HHTN:How is technology impacting the way home health care is being delivered?
LEVASSEUR:It’s really exciting to watch the growth of telehealth and telemonitoring technology as it improves the lives of so many people who are managing an illness at home. Telehealth can help keep people in their homes longer, it can provide for better quality and more timely treatment, and can reduce the need for time and labor-intensive transports. While telehealth cannot completely replace the need for brick-and-mortar care, it can provide a substantial amount of the physician, nursing and other health care.