The US healthcare industry is not well, and the diagnosis is trained professionals’ deficiency. The Association of American Medical Colleges predicts a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033, with primary care being the most short-staffed. While this is a complex issue that needs multiple solution components, the adoption of primary telehealth technology is one of the solutions to the crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on primary care practitioners, as many have suffered from the virus themselves, and even more personnel have experienced burnout and depression due to overwork. However, this global health crisis is not the sole cause of the dire lack of qualified primary care physicians. The most important underlying issues in the healthcare industry include:
Rapidly aging US population. The Administration of Aging reports that the number of Americans over 65 years old has increased by 38% during the last ten years, while the younger population grew only by 2%. Furthermore, 20% of the people aged between 65 and 74 assess their health as fair or poor and require primary care three or four times more often than others.
The overall national health. According to the CDC, 6 in 10 adults in the US live with a chronic disease of some kind. Such patients always need more attention from their primary care physician, annual lab tests, and condition monitoring. Moreover, COVID exacerbated many health issues, forcing chronically ill patients to contact their physicians and receive care even more frequently.
The challenges of medical education. The US medical education system can’t keep up with the demand for trained primary care professionals. Becoming a physician is a lengthy and very costly process, and many students simply can’t afford to study this long and pay the tuition. The Medicare & Medicaid funding can only support one thousand residency positions across the US, which is not nearly enough to avert the shortage crisis. It’s good that there is special healthcare training software for training medical staff that help optimize the learning process.
While telemedicine is not a cure-all solution for staffing shortage, it can contribute to more efficient primary care and a wider coverage area per physician. This is how telehealth technology can mitigate medical personnel scarcity:
More flexibility for physicians: Allowing healthcare professionals to work from anywhere they like boosts their job satisfaction, prevents burnout, and also adds appeal to the primary care career. With more jobs across all industries being done remotely, people can be more willing to dedicate themselves to becoming healthcare professionals if they have desirable job conditions.
More accessible care: Through telehealth, physicians can provide services to patients from any remote location. This can not only cover constantly underserved areas and compensate for the lack of physicians there, but also enable care professionals to easily substitute each other so they are able to take a much-needed day off.
Better preventive care: Studies show that roughly 12.9% of patients miss primary care appointments, risking exacerbating their condition. Work or family commitments, forgetting the appointment, and transportation difficulties are the most common causes for not showing up. Telemedicine enables patients to consult their primary care physician at the onset of the problem and fix it faster.
Despite many clear advantages of telehealth for primary care providers, many organizations are reluctant to adopt the technology. The most common obstacles to implementing telemedicine are its cost, privacy concerns, and personnel’s reluctance to change their established workflows. However, a properly implemented solution is definitely worth the effort, as it can bring significant ROI and boost the practice’s efficiency. If you are a healthcare provider looking to implement telehealth software, make sure to keep in mind four essential components:
A solution aligned with your needs: There are dozens of telehealth platforms for providers to choose from, so choose wisely. Begin by determining the services you want to provide via the telehealth platform and the requirements your practice has for its features, security, scalability, interoperability, and other important characteristics. Then, look for a solution that will cover them all and won’t have any unnecessary add-ons.
New workflows: The adoption of telehealth software can require significant changes to the existing medical workflows. If a provider fails to organically incorporate remote healthcare delivery into everyday routines, it becomes a burden, putting even more pressure on personnel and slowing the organization down. What is more, people don’t like to change their ways of working, so the healthcare organization’s leadership should make an effort to guide through telehealth transformation.
Staff training: Don’t skip the vendor-supported user training. Professionals that have received sufficient training are less likely to burn out, show higher efficiency at work, and are more satisfied with their job.
Educating patients: Offering telehealth services is only the beginning – healthcare providers should then effectively convince patients to use them. Though in 2021, 37% of adults used telemedicine, it is still a relatively low number, especially taking into account that it consists primarily of a wealthier, urban-located population. For telehealth to aid with staffing shortages, providers must conduct educational campaigns to encourage all types of patients to use it.
There are not enough trained physicians to cover the US national needs. This situation stems from multiple underlying issues, and in order to fix it we need more accessible medical education, larger residency funding, better job conditions for medical professionals, and other structural changes that can’t happen in a day. What we can do to alleviate the situation right now is to implement telemedicine to help existing physicians reach more patients and prevent them from burning out. If implemented correctly, this technology can make visits to primary physicians more comfortable and easier for both doctors and patients, resulting in improved population health and medical professionals’ satisfaction with their job.