Patient care delivery has undergone remarkable changes since the COVID-19 pandemic. One noticeable shift has been the emergence of telehealth, allowing consultations, diagnoses, and treatments to occur virtually. This digital transformation in healthcare has many organizations embracing a hybrid healthcare model.
But what are the important differences between telehealth and in-person care, and how can behavioral health and human services (BHHS) organizations blend both models seamlessly? Join us as we discuss the pros and cons of each along with the technology needed to deliver a high-quality patient experience in this new age of blended care.
What Are the Pros of Telehealth?
Telehealth and telemedicine have surged drastically since the early days of the pandemic – especially in mental health. One study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the percentage of mental health treatment facilities that offered telehealth services more than doubled (39.4% to 88.1%) between 2019 and 2022.
However, telehealth offers more benefits than providing another option when in-person visits aren’t possible. It also reduces previously stubborn barriers to care, such as stigma, particularly surrounding mental health. Here are some of the most remarkable benefits of telehealth.
Improves Accessibility and Convenience
One of the most important differences between telehealth visits and in-person care is accessibility. For patients living in remote, underserved areas – where the nearest behavioral healthcare clinics could be miles away – telehealth provides an invaluable lifeline.
But it isn’t only those in rural areas who benefit. Telehealth allows the elderly who don’t drive and patients without access to public transportation to take part in high-quality care with a click of a button.
The traditional behavioral healthcare model entails long waits for appointments. Telehealth, by contrast, offers the luxury of receiving care from the comfort of one's home, eliminating travel and significantly reducing waiting times. This saves time and reduces the stress and inconvenience associated with outpatient visits.
Reduces Hospital Admissions and Readmissions
By leveraging real-time monitoring and virtual consultations, telehealth presents a transformative approach to healthcare. Research has found that telebehavioral health can reduce hospital admission, readmissions, and time spent in the emergency department.
Tracking patients with chronic conditions can help you monitor your patient’s vital signs, well-being, and other pertinent metrics. Built-in alerts can let clinicians know about many concerns before crises occur. This early intervention can often circumvent the need for hospitalization.
Similarly, post-hospitalization telehealth aids in ensuring that patients receive timely follow-ups, understand their care instructions, and adhere to prescribed treatments. By bridging the gap between patients and providers, telehealth minimizes potential miscommunications or oversights that often lead to readmissions. Telehealth's proactive and responsive nature is a preventive measure, ensuring consistent patient care and averting potential hospital stays.
What Are the Cons of Telehealth?
It’s important to acknowledge that telehealth isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Some situations require a hands-on approach and not all patients feel comfortable with virtual interactions. There are other considerations as well.
Limitation of Virtual Examinations
One of the most significant drawbacks of telehealth is the inability to conduct comprehensive examinations. While video consultations offer a lot, certain conditions need a hands-on assessment. For instance, immediate in-person care is needed for patients with suicidal ideation or exhibiting behaviors of harming others. While telehealth can aid in early detection and intervention, it’s critical to recognize these limitations and ensure a robust system for conducting in-person visits when needed.
The Digital Divide
The success of telehealth largely depends on stable internet connectivity and compatible devices. Patients or caregivers who have limited technical knowledge might face challenges in setting up and navigating the necessary technology. Furthermore, disruptions in service due to unstable connections may lead to misunderstandings or misdiagnosis.
Not everyone is comfortable using technology, especially older generations who might be more accustomed to traditional care methods. The impersonal nature of a screen can feel daunting or unsatisfactory to some, leading to a preference for in-person visits.
Privacy Concerns and Inaccurate Self-Reporting
There are also concerns about data security and patient privacy with virtual visits. Even when the platform you use is private and secure, it’s sometimes difficult to eliminate the risk of unauthorized access. Delivering effective care depends on ensuring your patient is in an area where they can speak openly and freely.
Especially in the absence of physical examination, providers rely heavily on patients' descriptions of their symptoms. This dependence can lead to inaccuracies if patients struggle to articulate or even understand their symptoms.
While telehealth can help in early detection and intervention, it's crucial to recognize its limitations. To improve mental health outcomes, ensure a robust system is in place for self-reporting and conducting in-person care when necessary.
What Are Important Differences Between Telehealth and In-Person Care from the Provider’s Perspective?
While understanding the patient experience is key, getting the behavioral health provider’s perspective offers a more well-rounded overview. What are the important differences between telehealth and in-person care from the provider's perspective? Let’s look at a few of the pros and cons.
Care Provider Perspective: Benefits of Telehealth
Increased Patient Volume: Virtual visits allow clinicians to see more patients daily. Therapists and counselors can schedule sessions more closely without the need for physical office space turnover or time spent commuting.
Flexible Work Environment: Providers can offer healthcare services from the comfort of their homes or any suitable environment. This flexibility can improve work-life balance, reduce commute-related stress, and potentially decrease overhead costs related to maintaining a physical office.
Greater Geographic Reach: Virtual care providers aren't limited to patients in their immediate area. This can be especially beneficial for specialists who cater to niche populations or specific conditions, allowing them to serve a broader clientele.
Fewer No-Shows: The convenience of telehealth can lead to fewer missed appointments. With barriers like transportation, traffic, and weather conditions out of the equation, patients are often more likely to attend their sessions.
Care Provider Perspective: Drawbacks of Telehealth
There's no doubt that telehealth presents an array of opportunities for behavioral healthcare providers, from expanding their practice reach to introducing flexibility in their professional lives. However, these advantages can bring challenges that require careful consideration and proactive management to ensure provider well-being and therapeutic efficacy.
Accelerated Burnout: Seeing more patients without natural breaks that parse in-person interactions might lead to faster burnout. Continuous screen time can be mentally and physically exhausting. Caseload management can help prevent this from happening to your workforce.
Technical Challenges: Without comprehensive EHR training or access to technical support, glitches during sessions can hamper the therapeutic process and become a source of frustration.
Possible Decreased Patient Attachment: Building a therapeutic alliance is crucial in behavioral health. While many patients and providers connect well over telehealth, others may find it harder to establish the same depth of connection compared to face-to-face interactions.
Technology Solutions That Improve Your Telehealth Program
During the pandemic, the shift towards telehealth services became more pronounced. Since then, offering hybrid care has become central to the behavioral healthcare system's evolution. This change means more patients can access quality care without stepping into a doctor’s office. Let’s explore how to make technology work for your practice and your patients.
Seamless Integration: ContinuumCloud’s unified EHR system allows healthcare providers to access patient medical records easily, facilitating real-time decisions. This streamlines the process and ensures clinicians work with the most up-to-date health information.
Enriched Patient Experience: The CaredFor app, a mobile patient engagement platform, elevates the telehealth visit experience. Integrated tools like HIPAA-compliant messaging and videoconferencing foster better engagement, ensuring an office visit's depth isn't lost in a virtual setting.
Flexibility and Accessibility: Mobile EHR software can help support behavioral health providers in the field. It helps clinicians exchange information with primary care providers and offers healthcare services from anywhere. This enhances care delivery for those with chronic conditions who might not be able to make in-person visits.
Addressing the challenges of telehealth is easier when you have a technology partner that understands you. ContinuumCloud developed our spectrum of solutions with behavioral health professionals in mind.
Ensuring High-Quality Video Visits: Technical disruptions in telemedicine visits can fracture the patient experience. ContinuumCloud’s robust infrastructure promises high-quality virtual visits, mirroring face-to-face interactions in an in-person setting.
Prioritizing Security: Amid growing concerns about health information breaches, ContinuumCloud’s platform complies with HIPAA privacy rules and regulations to ensure personal health information and data is always secure.
Regulatory Compliance: For American healthcare providers, navigating the intricate web of referrals, Medicare, Medicaid, and insurance reimbursement is crucial. ContinuumCloud's features can guide these aspects, ensuring compliance and cost-effectiveness.
Maintain the Human Touch Virtually and In-Person
As telehealth grows, the value of in-person contact isn’t lost. Even the most intuitive and integrative platform can’t always recreate an environment conducive to therapy. But when face-to-face care isn’t possible, look for technology tools that feature real-time feedback mechanisms, bridging the gap between an outpatient setting and virtual care.
ContinuumCloud is positioned to support behavioral health organizations in creating the perfect blend of in-person and telehealth visits. Connect with us today to get started with a plan that fits your clientele's and organization's precise care needs.