Think grandma can’t navigate a video visit with her doctor? Think again.
In a survey conducted by Sutter Health, 52% of people aged 65 and older reported having used telehealth during the pandemic. Ninety-three percent of these same patients reported having a positive experience. Now consider that after Grandma gave you a follow and sent you a friend request.
The pandemic—with all its stark lessons—also gives us silver linings. Telehealth is one major example. Yet, there are still some preconceived notions about what it can and cannot do. Get ready to take on some myths! We tackle the top three, but check out more of the telehealth true-and-false.
Myth: Telehealth will amplify health inequities.
Fact: While more work needs to be done, telehealth is already improving critical access to care in rural and underserved communities.
Telehealth is opening doors to healthcare in rural and underserved communities that might not otherwise be available. It improves critical access by eliminating the need to travel and saving on the total cost of care.
As virtual care access has increased, Sutter’s network of care specifically saw a significant decrease in no-show rates among patients who have traditionally been the most difficult to reach. Health systems’ partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers—or FQHCs—also make virtual care more available. They give patients in low-income and rural areas access to specialty providers and mental health services they wouldn’t otherwise have.
Aimee Sagan works for Chapa-De Indian Health, a community clinic in rural Placer County. Its purpose is to care for American Indian and Alaska Native people as well as low-income individuals and families. Thanks to expanded telehealth capabilities and the groundwork laid with numerous partners, their patients and providers have had meaningful results.
“Behavioral health has seen the most dramatic improvement,” Sagan said. “Patients are more likely to keep their scheduled appointments when they are telehealth.”
Myth: Healthcare requires a human touch.
Fact: Virtual care should complement, not replace, in-person care to enhance an established doctor-patient relationship.
In-person care and virtual care are complementary of each other—what’s important to emphasize are the ongoing relationships between providers and patients. In a strictly virtual-only setting, providers and patients would have a hard time developing personal, real-life bonds.
Catrina Griffin knows firsthand what these bonds mean. The 33-year-old from Stockton has several chronic conditions. She also has a very rare form of cancer called neurofibromatosis, which cause tumors to form on nerve tissue. She has numerous care teams from Sacramento to San Francisco helping support her care.
In her experience, Griffin learned she could still work with her primary care provider to support her ongoing care needs. This included ordering labs and imaging, talking about symptoms and coordinating care with other providers.
Griffin appreciates the personal connection with her providers is still there even if they aren’t in the same location.
“We’re emotional creatures after all, but [telehealth] didn’t have an effect,” on their relationship, she said. “It literally was no different as if I was sitting in the exam room, except they were on my cell phone.”
This flexibility offers a lot of personal freedom, too. Now, Griffin can schedule appointments in between meetings. She doesn’t have to drive back and forth to numerous locations.
“The work-life balance is so much better,” she said.
Myth: Virtual care doesn’t equate to quality care.
Fact: Satisfaction rates for telehealth are on par with in-person visits, even as more patients than ever use the service — many for the first time. Clinicians have also found telehealth has helped maintain more care continuity. The platform makes it easier for patients with chronic conditions to get the care they need. By offering a rare glimpse into a patient’s life, virtual care gives clinicians a unique opportunity to see a patient’s surroundings that could affect one’s health.
Griffin gave her cardiologist a tour of her home gym where he pointed out some equipment she should avoid. He also asked her to walk the stairs in her home so he could monitor her breathing on a trek she has to make multiple times a day. If asked about her medications, she also can easily walk over to her medicine cabinet and name them rather than struggling to remember them.
“That is the single most favorite advantage,” she said with a laugh. “I’m as proficient as Dory in the memory department,” equating her recall to the beloved, long-term memory challenged character from “Finding Nemo.”
So, what’s the verdict on telehealth? The story is still taking shape, but healthcare systems are committed to helping write part of its future.
“As we look ahead to new personalized care models, we remain focused on building our virtual care capabilities in a way that adds value to the patient and care team experience,” said Albert Chan, M.D., M.S., chief of digital patient experience at Sutter Health. “Technology will continue to enhance human connection.”