Read our guide to discover current telemedicine trends and where appointment booking is going in the future.
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, a secure video conferencing and AI-powered cloud-hosted communications system for better and easier team collaboration.
Have you booked an appointment to see a doctor recently?
If you have, were you given the option of a remote consultation? It’s not yet available everywhere, but over the next few years, more and more patients will find they have a choice.
In this article, we’ll look at some current telemedicine trends and explore why the increase in telemedicine services has helped streamline the appointment booking process.
There’s often some confusion between these two terms, so let’s clear things up. Telemedicine refers to the use of technology to deliver medical care remotely. This could mean anything from having a consultation with a patient using videoconferencing tools to diagnose a skin rash to inviting patients to call a clinic’s business phone number to access a therapy session.
On the other hand, telehealth is an umbrella term that covers many aspects of healthcare. Although it does include telemedicine, it also describes the use of technology to provide other services, such as health advice or coaching and health-related education, at a distance.
Telemedicine is only one part of the telehealth story. But it’s a crucial one when considering how advancements in technology, and patient attitudes to these new developments, is transforming the process of appointment booking in healthcare.
Telemedicine has been a niche pursuit in the healthcare sector for many years. It was helpful in situations where a patient could not see a doctor in person — for example, individuals with mobility problems or who live in remote areas. Even so, it was considered the second-best choice for most people. However, that’s changing.
The use of telemedicine is growing rapidly. In fact, according to Fortune Business Insights, the value of the telemedicine market in North America alone is expected to rise from nearly $80 billion in 2020 to roughly $397 billion in 2027. That’s an average annual growth rate of 26%.
So what changed? There are several contributing factors, but it would be remiss not to mention the covid pandemic. The advent of the pandemic forced a shake-up of many established habits.
Formerly skeptical bosses learned to see the upsides of remote work for their businesses. Organizations of all kinds developed new ways of working. Healthcare providers were no different, embracing digital transformation tools at an accelerated rate.
In essence, what happened was one giant forced experiment. For many, the results were better than expected. Lessons learned during the pandemic have provided a springboard for implementing more modern workflows.
One lasting effect of this period has been that older people have become more comfortable using modern devices and tech tools. For healthcare, this is significant. Seniors, as a group, are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases and therefore account for a greater proportion of care hours than younger people.
The reluctance of older people to embrace new technology has been a significant factor that worked against healthcare providers adopting innovative new care delivery methods. After all, there’s no point in making substantial investments in new practices if the majority of your patients won’t use them.
Now that seniors have become more accustomed to using tools such as videoconferencing software, they are much more open to the idea of remote consultations.
But it’s not just the patients who have a newfound enthusiasm for remote care delivery. Specialists in many branches of healthcare have embraced telemedicine in new ways too. This is happening even in areas of care like gynecology and dermatology, where remote consultations would previously have been considered highly unusual.
Underpinning this increase in uptake has been favorable changes in the regulatory environment. In many countries, governments were quick to issue new guidance surrounding care delivery during the difficult months of 2020. In India, for example, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare published guidelines for telemedicine in March of that year.
Of course, none of these changes would have been possible if the right technology didn’t exist. We’ve reached a point where multiple technologies have now become sufficiently advanced that it’s possible to establish holistic care solutions.
The massive growth in cloud-based tools has had a significant impact. It’s now easier than ever for smaller organizations to access sophisticated IT services. For healthcare providers, this means it’s no longer necessary to store patient data on in-house servers. Additionally, administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments are simple with cloud-based software.
This has meant that it’s now possible to pursue a digital-first approach. Granted, some conditions still need in-person care — but it’s possible to conduct many consultations remotely.
The best thing about telemedicine is that it’s greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, when large numbers of healthcare providers are set up to prioritize telemedicine, good things happen. Services begin to dovetail in a way that’s very useful for patients.
You can now have a remote consultation with your primary care doctor; be given a diagnosis and referred for tests; drop off a test sample at a convenient location; receive your test results directly; or pick up a prescription — all without visiting a single clinic.
The continuing rollout of 5G has also helped make telemedicine more viable. Because it provides superior streaming quality, faster connection times, and enables quicker file transfers, it has made telemedicine via mobile devices a feasible option.
What’s more, the future looks genuinely exciting. New technologies are developing all the time and we’ve only just begun imagining the impact they will have.
AI and machine learning tools are already having an impact in diagnosis rates and patient risk identification. On a more mundane level, AI can be beneficial for triage and patient support via chatbot tech implemented on a clinic’s website. In short, we’re only just getting started.
As the use of technology in healthcare increases, the number of new companies springing up to fill gaps in provision has grown. Innovation is key.
The new providers are making a strong impact in traditionally under-serviced areas. Across the African continent, for example, multiple healthcare operators are establishing new services.
In Côte d’Ivoire, the French telecoms group Orange has partnered with Moroccan startup DabaDoc to create Orange Santé. It provides services such as online appointment booking and remote consultations. Rather than trying to replace existing local healthcare providers, it aims to work with them. Local providers are encouraged to join the platform.
In many markets, companies are using blockchain-supported solutions to improve security in patient data storage or to streamline medical supply chain management. The healthcare sector is ripe for development, so we can expect to see further innovation in the space.
Having looked at some of the current telemedicine trends, it’s obvious that it offers a number of benefits. Let’s take a closer look at why it’s beneficial for booking appointments.
There are many digital tools available now not only for expediting clinical diagnosis and treatment, but also for streamlining admin processes. When it comes to appointment booking, the fact more patients are asking for remote consultations has certain advantages.
For instance, late arrivals and last-minute appointment cancellations may be less of a problem. You can use automated reminders to confirm the appointment time and reduce the number of no-shows.
Patients are also less likely to cancel when they don’t have to travel for their appointment. And even if they do, it’s easier to find another patient to take their place at short notice. That’s because they don’t need to be nearby to hop on a call.
Overall, this helps lower costs because there is less wastage in the system. With traditional appointment booking systems, you need to build in much more contingency for missed appointments.
With a digital-first approach to consultations, it’s easier to swap around appointments to suit everyone involved. With up-to-date data being shared across the system, there is much more flexibility.
Even for small clinics, the costs of investing in something like an enterprise VoIP solution to enable remote care delivery tends to be recouped quickly in terms of money saved elsewhere.
This increased efficiency means that medical practices can see more patients in a day. Because there are fewer late arrivals, there’s less likely to be a domino effect that delays all the other appointments. That means less frustration for patients and staff alike.
Patients can easily share information and documentation in advance via their online booking form, so the doctor doesn’t need to spend time going through basic questions at the start of each appointment. They’ll have more time to discuss the actual problem.
Remote appointments enable consultants to participate from any location, which saves the patient having to book and travel to a separate appointment. It’s also easier to facilitate online appointments at short notice for emergencies.
Plus, when fewer patients attend clinics in person, and waiting times are reduced, this reduces the spread of illnesses through overcrowded waiting areas. Staff can spend less time on hygiene processes between appointments.
All of the above leads to a more satisfying patient experience. For most consultations, it may be possible to offer an online booking system for appointments. That puts the patient in control since they can select the time and date that suits them best, and choose the appointment channel that best suits their condition.
In the long term, this may mean better health outcomes in general. That’s because the easier it is for patients to access health provision, the more likely they are to be engaged in their own care.
Put simply, telemedicine is here to stay. While there’s no doubt this poses certain challenges for healthcare providers, it offers plenty of opportunities too.
In the future, we can expect it to be more straightforward to operate an appointment system that works well for all stakeholders. No one knows what the future will bring. But with the right digital tools in place, knowing when and where has become a lot easier.
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, a secure video conferencing and AI-powered cloud-hosted communications system for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace has also written for other domains such as Upcity and WooRank. Here is her LinkedIn.