For hospitals managing patients suffering from the coronavirus, the advantages of telemedicine are top of mind. The pandemic highlights a challenge telemedicine helps hospitals overcome: the physician shortage.
Rural hospitals leverage hospitalists for coverage because there is a limited supply of critical care, infectious disease, neurology and other specialists. Community hospitals are often required to pay higher salaries to attract and retain physicians. Recruiting is expensive.
Contracting with locums physicians to cover for physician turnover, vacations and holidays is also expensive. Smaller hospitals used to ask daytime staff to take overnight and extra shifts. Today, asking full-time providers to cover nights and weekends isn’t sustainable. It is a recipe for burnout. On top of all of this, money is tight. Rural hospitals only have, on average, about 10 day’s cash on hand.
Hospitals nationwide got creative to during the COVID-19 crisis to manage the physician shortage. As states reopen, hospitals will need to apply that same ingenuity to manage the limited availability of doctors, and the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic. At last, telemedicine is having its moment. Telemedicine gives hospitals the ability to care for patients and access physicians only when necessary. With the help of telemedicine, rural and community hospitals can achieve economies of scale.
The Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) defines economies of scale as the “gains provided through the consolidation of effort or volume.” Put simply, by offering more of something (inpatient care and specialty medicine) while using fewer resources (staff doctors) hospitals can spread costs over a larger area, saving money. Enter telemedicine.
In today’s healthcare landscape, hospitalists, in particular, make up the fastest growing physician specialty in history. In 1996, there were fewer than 1,000 such specialists. Today there are 44,000 hospitalists in the U.S. Yet, the demand for hospitalists continues to outpace supply, with only one in 15 internal medicine students choosing the specialty. The competitive market makes it particularly difficult to retain and recruit hospitalists to rural areas. By initiating an inpatient TeleHospitalist program, hospitals can provide sustainable, cost-effective coverage and support their onsite clinical teams.
How it Works
Eagle’s TeleHospitalist physicians interact with patients via face-to-face technology. A patient’s vitals, lab work and medical history are accessible to our remote providers at the touch of a button. Our secure, real-time video conferencing platform allows the virtual hospitalist to make a diagnosis and prescribe treatment.
Instant access to remote hospitalists enables healthcare organizations to reduce nighttime staffing issues, utilize nurse coverage and rapidly respond to the needs of patients. The care provided is on par with in-person patient consults, and often delivered more quickly.
The advantages of telemedicine go far beyond increasing care for patients without breaking the bank. Patients receive real-time diagnoses and treatment while onsite nurses assist with physical exams.
- Cost-Savings: Hospitals can save up to 40% by using a TeleHospitalist versus employing a full-time, onsite nocturnist.
- More Revenue: One partner hospital saw admissions go up 26% after implementing a TeleHospitalist program.
- Better Staff Utilization: A telemedicine physician can simultaneously cover rounding requirements for five LTACHs with a total of 100 beds among them.
Now that’s economies of scale – offering more care using fewer resources.
Specialty Care without Full-Time Costs
We are also seeing hospitals achieve economies of scale by implementing inpatient TeleSpecialty programs. In rural areas, where access to physician specialists is limited, giving hospitals the flexibility to provide specialty care via telemedicine reduces patient transfers and keeps crucial dollars closer to home. Eagle helps hospitals across the country realize the advantages of telemedicine by providing access to remote specialists in 12 specialties, including:
- ICU/Critical Care
- Infectious Disease
- Maternal-Fetal Medicine
TeleSpecialty programs also give hospitals the ability to staff up or down according to need without the expense of a full-time specialist.
In the past few months, we have seen our partner hospitals rapidly implement Tele-ID (infectious disease) and Tele-ICU programs – in weeks instead of months. They are staffing up for the anticipated need for Infectious Disease specialists. While the need for ID physicians won’t go away completely, most hospitals will see ID patients taper down to a trickle. Having a Tele-ID physician “on call” provides flexibility and improves patient care. Telemedicine gives hospitals the ability to scale physician needs up and down as necessary.
Now that’s economies of scale – access to specialists on-demand.
While there is not one “miracle solution” to solving the staffing and financial issues facing American hospitals today, embracing technology proven to elevate patient care and provide economic ROI is a great place to start.