Patients and insurers were quick to sing the praises of telehealth due to its convenience and relatively low cost. Healthcare providers and facilities have continued to be skeptical, however, given the dearth of evidence that it’s a safe way to assess and treat patients while bringing in adequate revenue. While those arguments have scared many urgent care operators away from giving it a try, mounting evidence that telehealth can work might start changing some minds. Even the American Medical Association acknowledges that almost 75% of physician visits—including those to the emergency room and urgent care—could be handled safely using telehealth. On the business side, and especially compelling for urgent care operators, is the fact that consumers continue to demand greater convenience. This is especially true for younger patients, who make up an increasing portion of the healthcare consumer population; data from the Benefit Research Institute/Greenwald & Associates show that 40% of Millennial patients say having a telehealth option is “extremely or very important” to them. Further, the core attributes of telehealth—as noted, convenience and lower cost compared with other sites—are identical to those that fuel the ongoing growth of urgent care. In other words, as more patients pull out their tablets and smartphones instead of getting into the car when they don’t feel well, healthcare facilities may have to either get on board or figure out a way to remain profitable with fewer patients.
Evidence that Telehealth Can Work Clinically Is Mounting