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Right Care, Right Place, Right Time With Telehealth

posted by Dr. Thomas H. Ebert, Fallon Health

on March 20, 2018

The future of telemedicine is bright.

The option of visiting a provider through a phone or web-based device is rising in popularity. It’s another way to meet people where they are and ensure their health needs are met. Telemedicine can be used throughout the entire spectrum of care, from minor self-limited illness to more complex specialty and longitudinal care.

Telemedicine helps us at Fallon Health to achieve our goal of providing members with care in the right place, at the right time, in a setting where they feel comfortable. And it solves a real problem for people who can’t get an appointment with their provider on a convenient day and time.

A typical day in a physician’s office is like a scene from the movie “Groundhog Day.” Each morning begins with a full schedule of patients, nearly all of whom are there at times that are inconvenient for them. A patient in need of a same-day, urgent visit has to take whatever appointment is available—if there is one to be had—regardless of how inconvenient it may be.

Many physicians are working to offer more flexibility for patients. Some are doing this to discourage options, such as telemedicine, urgent care and walk-in clinics, that they view as a disruption to the doctor-patient relationship.

But the secret about telemedicine is out.

Telemedicine combines state-of-the-art customer service platforms with the expertise of board-certified physicians. A traditional physical exam rarely adds critical information for common self-limited medical conditions such as viral illnesses affecting a community, ear infections, pharyngitis or urinary tract infections. And since telemedicine physicians are often in the same community or region as the patient, they are usually familiar with what viruses are currently being seen.

At Fallon, we see telemedicine as a terrific benefit for the diverse populations we serve. As a leader in offering government programs, we carefully chose Teladoc, a strong provider of virtual care services, for their experience navigating Medicare and Medicaid, as well as commercial populations. It is a great addition to our ER diversion strategy which encompasses all of our members. It’s not easy to change the set behaviors of patients who often depend on the ER for non-emergency care, but it’s well worth it. A diversion from a $1,000 ER visit to a $45 (or less) telemedicine consult results in similar or better health outcomes, along with significant cost savings

For integrated health care systems, it can make sense to buy or rent telemedicine platforms and use providers within their own system to help control total medical expense. While telemedicine is often thought of as an alternative to a primary care office visit, health care specialties as diverse as behavioral health and dermatology can still fit easily into telemedicine platforms to allow patients convenient access to specialty services.

Although patients can access telemedicine providers through any device, most patients prefer the anonymity of the phone, although video is preferred by providers.

At Fallon, we are introducing telemedicine to our members and educating them about its many benefits. We are aiming to change members’ behavior pattern and help them understand new technology and options—without sacrificing value and quality. And we’re meeting with success. Once our members try it, they are highly satisfied with the experience and first-contact problem resolution is very high.

Thomas H. Ebert, M.D., is Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Fallon Health, a leading, nonprofit health care services organization providing innovative health insurance solutions including a variety of Medicaid and Medicare products.