How Telehealth Can Improve Access to Specialty Healthcare
Our Recent Partnership with Sharp Healthcare Shows the Benefits of Specialty Telehealth
Many patients in the United States do not have access to specialty healthcare. When someone is referred to a specialty provider, they may not have the ability to visit the provider in person. Additionally, the patient’s primary care provider may have trouble sharing information with the specialty provider, which can delay access to care and worsen patient outcomes.
InTouch Health recently partnered with Sharp Healthcare in San Diego, California to improve access to specialty healthcare using a state-of-the-art telehealth program. Now, patients in the Southern California area can remotely connect with specialty providers using live video and audio. The program is also designed to increase collaboration between providers, so everyone has access to the latest information.
Learn more below about the success of this program and how telehealth is changing specialty care for the better.
The Problem with Specialty Healthcare
In the U.S., one out of every three patients is referred to a specialist each year, yet many referring physicians do not know whether their patients saw the specialist. Communication between providers is essential when referring patients. The referring physician needs to be able to send and receive information to and from the specialist so they can work together to facilitate the best possible care for the patient. The specialist will need to refer to this information when caring for the patient to speed up the treatment process instead of starting from scratch.
Many primary care providers have trouble tracking whether their patients are able to actually visit the specialists they are referred to. Some patients may have trouble visiting the specialist in person, especially if they live in a rural area or one with few providers. Elderly patients and those with chronic conditions may suffer from limited mobility as well, reducing their ability to visit the specialist in person.
How Telehealth Can Help
By implementing a virtual care program, primary care providers can quickly share information with specialists with the press of a button. When referring a patient to a specialist, the provider can include important health information as well as their overall diagnosis in the patient file. This ensures that the specialist has all the information they need when treating a new patient. As the treatment plan progresses, the specialist can use this system to share updates with the primary care provider and make sure the patient’s physicians are all on the same page.
Some patients may be hesitant to see a specialist for the first time, especially if they do not have insurance or would need to travel for the visit. Instead of making the trip to see the specialist in person, patients can sign up for a virtual consultation. This gives them a chance to get to know the specialist and learn about possible treatment methods before making the potentially stressful trip in person. The specialist can use the consultation to address the patient’s concerns and ensure they are covered by insurance. And patients can enjoy the added benefit of not worrying about taking time off work or arranging transportation.
The Sharp Healthcare Partnership
Our recent partnership with Sharp Healthcare illustrates the benefits of specialty telehealth. The company oversees seven hospitals, two skilled nursing facilities, home care, hospice, and three Medicaid groups, including over 2,600 affiliated physicians. Sharp providers were wary of sending their patients to specialists unnecessarily, especially if there was a chance their patients would have trouble making an appointment, but primary care providers also didn’t want to overlook crucial health issues.
InTouch Health worked with Sharp Healthcare to create a peer-to-peer specialist telehealth program, so primary care providers can quickly share information with the referred specialists. The program also reduced commute times and transportation costs for patients, increasing the likelihood that patients would follow through and reach out to specialty providers after a referral.
The new virtual care program had to be extremely easy to use, or local patients might be resistant to this new technology. Patients receive a link on their devices telling them that they have an appointment with their specialist. Once a patient opens their link, they will immediately be connected with their provider. This allows both parties to address their concerns before moving on with the treatment process. Specialists can learn more about their patients before seeing them in person, while helping patients feel more at ease.
Sharp Healthcare now uses the telehealth program to direct patients to a number of local specialists, including mental health professionals, neurologists, palliative care providers, urologists, pediatricians, podiatrists, dermatologists, and many more.