Believe it or not, telehealth dates back to the late 19th century. As we entered the 21st century, the proliferation of the internet and electronic health records facilitated advances in telehealth. By 2019, states had begun to pass legislation that expanded telehealth access. Then, the rapid spread of COVID-19 compelled providers to take measures to control its transmission, and telehealth was the clear solution. In nonemergent situations, patients could receive consultations and undergo examinations via teleconferencing software channeled securely through EHR systems, thereby limiting person-to-person contact and ensuring continuity of care.
The Benefits of Telehealth for Providers and Patients
Telehealth expansion has allowed providers and patients to realize several benefits in terms of care access and delivery. These include but aren’t limited to:
Time and Cost Savings
For patients, telehealth means there’s no need to travel to the clinic, find parking, and travel back—a boon particularly for those who don’t have reliable transportation.
Thanks to telehealth, patients who live in faraway rural communities or don’t have reliable means of transportation can easily get the consultation and care they need.
The fast and remote nature of telehealth allows patients to schedule appointments more easily, as they don’t have to take time from work or arrange for travel. On the provider side, flexibility means you can see more patients without comprehensive rearrangements of your schedule.
As we saw during the pandemic, limiting in-person contact reduces the potential for exposure to diseases, an upside that benefits you and your patients.
The Challenges of Implementing Telehealth Solutions
Benefits aside, there have been several challenges in implementing telehealth solutions, which will need to be overcome to optimize it as a care delivery system. Some of the biggest challenges include:
Insufficient Tech Skills
For patients, the lack of technological literacy is a major barrier to telehealth. Many patients, particularly older ones, may be unversed in the computing tasks necessary to use a telehealth platform.
Insufficient Tech Access
Many patients don’t have the resources to acquire sufficient computing technology to use telehealth services. Those who live in small, remote communities—who stand to benefit the most from telehealth—often lack the finances for high-speed internet and the hardware to make the most of it. The same problem applies to many allied health providers. Rural hospitals, for example, don’t always have the infrastructure in place to accommodate high-speed internet.
How Telehealth Affects Allied Health Staffing
The widespread adoption of telehealth may require significant training of your staff. That may involve upskilling (building on and improving an existing set of skills) and, in some cases, reskilling (replacing outdated skills with new ones). First, when recruiting temporary, temp-to-hire, or permanent staff, you should develop an ideal candidate profile, starting with soft skills. Since upskilling or reskilling may be part of candidates’ journeys, you will want people who are inherently adaptable, confident, and willing to learn. Oftentimes, a specialized staffing partner can help you identify these individuals. At Medix, we specialize in Allied health staffing, and during the recruitment process for our clients, we screen candidates with MyPrint, which assesses soft skills.
Telehealth may also require you to be more aware of and sensitive to the capabilities of your patients. Because effective care delivery via telehealth depends largely on communication, you should have staff who strive to guide your patients through the appropriate terminology for describing their conditions, and educate them about the proper use of the platform. It’s important to have a team that is communicative, patient, and understanding with patients.
You can also optimize your practices for telehealth by hiring staff who are already familiar with the technology. Partnering with a staffing agency like Medix, that is experienced in allied health staffing, allows you to recruit experienced talent without the inordinate cost of finding the right people amid a talent shortage, and without the time-consuming need to screen and interview candidates. Rural clinics can especially benefit from a staffing partner who has access to a nationwide pool of talent, including key allied health roles in:
- Medical assistance
- Surgical services
- Emergency care