Faced with a growing shortage of doctors, Americans may consider turning to “telehealth” services, which connect patients to healthcare professionals via teleconferencing programs like Skype, to get affordable and timely access to care.
Millions of Americans will soon gain access to insurance under the Affordable Care Act, which may exacerbate an existing doctor shortage.
As the American population swells and ages, the demand for doctors is expected to grow even more. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States could experience a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020—a number that may rise to more than 130,000 by 2025. At the same time, research shows that fewer medical students are choosing careers in the field of primary care.
What does this mean for patients? There may not be enough doctors to go around. As a result, telehealth could start playing a greater role in healthcare services. And unlike traditional healthcare—which can be costly—some telehealth providers boast rates lower than the price of a latte per day.
Telehealth alone will not solve the country’s doctor shortages. However, it may help to increase efficiency and cut costs by allowing communities to share healthcare resources, facilitating better management of chronic disease, and reducing the number and length of patients’ hospital stays, suggests the non-profit American Telemedicine Association.
“In the old days, you could call up your family practitioner and explain, ‘this is what’s going on – what should I do?’” says Mark Friedman, MD, chief medical officer of the home telehealth program First Stop Health, which offers memberships starting at under $300 per year—less than a dollar per day. “But today, more often than not, you won’t get to speak to your doctor. If you’re lucky, you might speak with office staff. Or, you could use telehealth services to speak with an expert and get the information you need.”
Telehealth is especially cost-cutting for patients living in rural regions with few doctors. By linking remote patients with resources that aren’t available locally, telehealth reduces the financial and physical burdens of travel, while helping people to complete care programs from the cost-effective comforts of home. In fact, a study published in Telemedicine Journal and e-Health found that participants who used telehealth services decreased their healthcare costs by 58 percent, compared to a control group that used only traditional care.
Telehealth has been practiced in one form or another in the United States for decades. The first use of interactive video in patient care occurred about 40 years ago as part of neurological and psychiatric services in Nebraska. More recently, telehealth has been used to support:
Get the information you need to improve your health and wellness on Healthline.com.
12 Ways Sex Helps You Live Longer. Research shows that an active sex life could lead to health benefits.
What Is Ankylosing Spondylitis? Treatment can manage symptoms, and may even put you into remission.
What No Guy Wants to Talk About. Making lifestyle changes may improve ED, but there are some question you need to ask a doctor.
5 Symptoms of an Overactive Bladder. Overactive bladder (OAB) affects more than 13 million adults in the U.S.
Most Effective Ankylosing Spondylitis Exercises. Practicing certain techniques can help you look and feel much better.