At this point, telehealth and telemedicine are household words, even for people who are not in the medical community.
However, the telehealth boom developed so recently (in response to the COVID-19 pandemic) that a lot of the curriculum for medical professional students is still being developed.
Below are some of the reasons why increasing your knowledge surrounding telehealth services will be a benefit to all medical professional students in the future, what you may start seeing in curriculum development, and how telehealth may open new job opportunities for new healthcare graduates.
Telehealth companies are booming, and it is likely here to stay
If anything was learned by the medical world from this pandemic, it is that integration of telehealth services can work and be implemented relatively quickly in order to provide medical care during a crisis.
People have also learned that telehealth services can provide medical care with no loss of quality for certain conditions while improving the overall efficiency of some healthcare visits for both the patient and providers.
Telehealth visits went from making up less than 1% of the volume of all health visits, to increasing to 60-70% of all visits in March of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, while it is unlikely that telehealth services would have been integrated and implemented at this scale without the pandemic, this telehealth boom has shown us that it can have many benefits for patients and offices alike.
Because of these benefits and increased ease of care with telehealth, it is unlikely that this is a passing trend and will likely be here to stay.
Telehealth will likely soon be part of the health professional curriculum
In order to provide consistent and thorough care through telehealth visits, there is a lot more to learn than just how to log into the system.
Integration of a telehealth system will no doubt become a key skill for new recruits to master, especially if they are considering their own practice.
But, other telehealth nuances, like how to properly visually assess and examine a patient without being in the same room as them, will need to be taught, broadened and developed so that all new healthcare professionals are on the same page and delivering the same level of virtual care.
It can take years to figure out and develop the most effective way to integrate telehealth into school curriculums, and since this method of care is so new, there are no professors available with longstanding, time-honed knowledge on the subject.
However, it is likely that mandatory telehealth and telemedicine skills courses are on the horizon for many schools, so that medical professionals will be ready to provide quality virtual care when their time comes to step out into the working world.
Be on the lookout for new job opportunities in the telehealth sphere
The expansion of telehealth and telemedicine services doesn’t just mean that students should be integrating new skills, it also means that a whole new subset of jobs are likely to be popping up in the next few years.
Telehealth doctors, pharmacists, nurses, dieticians and other medical professionals may soon be more and more commonplace.
An emphasis on being a self-starter, having great technical skills and working well with a team virtually may be skills in high demand for these kinds of jobs.
Students in medical specialties should consider telehealth positions to be one of their potential options while they are studying and considering their career paths.
Improved healthcare facility efficiency and patient accessibility
For those who are considering a career in the telehealth field, it is important to know the benefits telehealth can bring to both medical offices as well as patients, and when it will be most required.
For patients, access to care has been a growing problem, especially in the case of those who have issues with mobility or transportation, or if they just live in a rural portion of the country where the nearest clinic is hours away.
Telehealth can help reduce barriers to healthcare for people in rural areas, or those who have difficulty making it to office visits. Now, medical professionals who are armed with the skills and technology of optional telehealth visits can offer virtual visits to the woman down the street who can’t find transportation to the appointment, or the out-of-towner who would rather not take a full day off of work to receive care.
For some patients, lost wages from commuting to an appointment, having to arrange childcare, and pay for gas, tolls, and parking can be a significant burden. These can be alleviated or avoided completely by using virtual care when appropriate.
For medical professionals, the number of patients that are in your area is now less of a problem, and you can easily expand to surrounding areas as needed with less worry about distance.
In terms of efficiency, offices can see more patients in a given day by using telehealth systems. This normally leads to improved cash flow for the business and fewer expenses while providing the same quality of care to patients.
Telehealth and telemedicine services are probably not going to go anywhere. With the ease for patients and increased efficiency for medical professionals, it is likely to become more requested by patients as well as preferred by providers when appropriate.
As a student hoping to enter the medical world, you can help arm yourself with skills and knowledge to seamlessly integrate you into this changing world of healthcare.
Technological skills, how to provide patient care virtually, and knowing when in-person visits are best are just the beginnings of the skill set a great telehealth provider needs to learn. If becoming a telehealth provider is one of your goals for the future, start now to learn as much about this new frontier of healthcare as you can.
Jill Barat is a Doctor of Pharmacy at Strut Health with a unique background in specialty pharmacy, innovative compounding products, supplements, and integrative medicine with a passion for helping patients live their best lives.