The human body is complex. Researchers have made huge strides toward a better understanding of health and disease. Between 45 and 60 new drugs are approved each year.1 To use this huge amount of potentially life-saving information, patients and their doctors need to be able to talk to specialists and other members of a healthcare team. Technology advancements provide doctors and other healthcare providers with cognitive aids to help manage this information, and telehealth has made it easier for patients to access doctors on call and for doctors to collaborate online to provide optimal patient care.
Interprofessional collaboration is defined as “when multiple health workers from different professional backgrounds work together with patients, families, carers (caregivers), and communities to deliver the highest quality of care.”2
Telehealth and telemedicine were rapidly adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but since they offer so many potential patient benefits and support interprofessional collaboration, you can expect they will become the standard of care in many care settings.3
Medical errors are a serious concern. Johns Hopkins patient safety experts report that over 250,000 deaths per year in the U.S. are due to medical errors, making them the third leading cause of death.4
The risk of medical errors is increased when:5
Telemedicine opens access to specialists, increasing the probability that patients can consult with specialists who provide the most accurate online diagnosis. After receiving a diagnosis, patients can also get their prescriptions filled online.
When using a pharmacy to fill an online prescription, check to ensure the pharmacy is licensed through their state board of pharmacy and that it has a U.S. address. This will help protect you from pharmacies that are not safe. Prescriptions are always needed at legal, licensed pharmacies, and there is always a licensed pharmacist on staff. 6
Telemedicine promotes continuity of care, encourages people to take an active role in managing their healthcare, and improves overall clinical outcomes.7
Telemedicine can also reduce costs. Transportation and childcare costs, as well as time off work, all contribute to the cost of any office visit.8 While every online doctor and urgent care center may have different pricing structures, the cost of an online appointment is generally lower than an in-person visit.
Researchers found that the average cost of a telehealth visit was $79 in a 2017 study. The average cost of an in-person doctor’s visit was $146, and an emergency room visit was $1,734. There was lower spending in all aspects of an online visit, including pharmacy, imaging, and testing.9 Having said that, buyers should always exercise caution. Some online healthcare providers advertise their services as free, but there are hidden costs that can accumulate quickly.
Interprofessional collaboration can cut healthcare costs even more because it makes it easy for providers to share information and helps patients get in touch with the specialists who are best suited to help with their health problems instead of visiting multiple healthcare providers while trying to get an answer.
Collaboration between healthcare professionals can lead to better patient care. While this seems obvious, it is a hard practice to implement in busy healthcare offices. Telehealth provides easy access to tools that improve communication, making it much easier for healthcare professionals to consult with specialists and develop a comprehensive patient care plan.
Telemedicine clinics also improve access by providing extended patient care hours. Patients do not need to wait through the weekend or until the next available appointment to get the care they need. Many telemedicine clinics are “open” 24 hours a day.
To illustrate how collaborative care can improve recovery times, consider the case of a 67-year-old woman, let’s call her Emma, preparing for knee replacement surgery.
Emmas has type 2 diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. Her surgeon suggests that she meet with the following members of the healthcare team:
Using input from all members of her collaborative care team, Emma can confidently prepare for her surgery with less stress and in better health.
In many areas of the country, a shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists makes it challenging for patients to get the mental health services they need. In some cases, patients are treated by primary care physicians outside of their scope of training or do not receive care. Only 10% of patients will follow up on a referral to a mental health professional unless they are easily accessible and in the same location as their primary care provider.11
Increased access to psychologists and psychologists online can reduce costs, decrease the load on primary care physicians, and deliver mental health services in a setting that is comfortable and convenient for patients.12
Online tools make it easier to keep track of patient health data and trends, which can help reduce the risk of relapses and hospital stays. Technology can alert doctors about changes in vital signs that may indicate a worsening chronic health issue. Technology also makes it easier to provide quality patient education, empowering patients to better manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.13
Online communications channels, such as chat and email, make it easier for physicians and other healthcare professionals to communicate this data to their patients and for patients to have their online concerns addressed.
Interprofessional collaboration improves mental and physical health outcomes. Telemedicine makes it much easier to bring together a diverse healthcare team that can address all of a patient’s concerns and comprehensively provide routine, preventative, and emergent healthcare.