As the healthcare sector looks at practical ways to deliver care, while simultaneously increasing effectiveness and watching costs, telemedicine in the form of videoconferencing would seem to fulfill needs in multiple areas where delivery of care can be difficult. By deploying videoconferencing in real time with varied caregivers, doctors, nursing staff, and pharmacists, patients will be able to experience a high continuity of care, while health professionals will have a better picture of the patient’s health overall through sharing of information.
Continuity of Care and Patient Well-Being
Communication between healthcare professionals across a wide range of specialties can improve patient outcomes significantly. By sharing information, a patient’s “team” can consult with one another and with the patient about their care. Much like the development of digital records replaced the endless shuffling and shuttling of files, videoconferencing eliminates the lag time that a sometimes critically ill patient can experience when waiting to hear from various professionals, and can reduce miscommunication between patient and professionals, and the professionals themselves. Better communication ends up resulting in more consistent and contiguous care. Meeting patient needs for continuity of care should follow closely by the National Institutes of Health’s definition.
Continuity of care has a multiplicity of different perspectives. From the patient’s point of view, continuity of care is the patient’s experience of a continuous relationship with a healthcare professional such as their family physician, and their history with that provider, and the other physicians to whom their doctor recommends them. For a healthcare provider there may be a very different definition that has little to do with the patient and their perceived relationship, but with delivery of care coordination with other providers who are also caring with patient. As the complexity of healthcare evolves, the family doctor is often identified as the gateway doctor through which patient enters the multidimensional healthcare system.
Going Down the Rabbit Hole
Ways to incorporate continuity of care will simultaneously meeting the needs of both providers and patients is a complex matter to address. There are the concerns of the patient, the individual providers in the provider network, regulatory and insurance concerns, and a need to address all of them as seamlessly and cost-effectively as possible. Using videoconferencing such as Blue Jeans for healthcare needs may meet the following needs:
- Virtual clinic visits. Often referred to as telemedicine, virtual clinic visits can take the place of actual clinic visit when mobility, distance, or other factors render a personal visit difficult.
- Counseling via videoconference also gives patient and their counselor the chance to meet face-to-face over long distances. Clues of facial expression and body language often bring engagement, and a feeling of interaction without the anxiety of travel and an in office meeting.
- Home health check-in is also feasible with videoconferencing between patients and their caregivers. Caregivers can even inspect wounds and healing surgical incisions over the video link to see that they are closing satisfactorily.
- Case management, in terms of mental and physical health can also be conducted by video link between providers and administrative personnel in order to reduce paperwork, miscommunication, and the ever unloved game of phone tag.
- Coordination of care between providers can be critical in promoting patient confidence in their healthcare providers. When managing complicated cases such as cancer, HIV, diabetes or other metabolic diseases, heart disease, end-of-life, and MCCs (multiple chronic conditions), specialists will need to coordinate with each other frequently in order to assure continuity of care by the definition of both parties.
- All too often, family members are the boots on the ground in continuity of care. Whether caring for children, elderly parents, or at aging spouse or other relative, family members can be the linchpin between the professionals and the patient. Conferring with them at regular intervals also helps to fill in gaps professionals understanding of the patient, and the patient’s understanding of the professionals. Family members as caregivers also need consideration, and a certain continuity of care for themselves. Video check-ins can help determine the caregiver’s state of mind and needs for care.
According to the National Institutes of Health, instituting continuity of care practices can reduce prescription errors such as duplication, drug interactions, and improve case management of those with chronic conditions. By enhancing the relationship with the patient, providers and caregivers can make the patient feel more involved in the process of their care instead of being an economic unit into which various providers insert prescriptions and extract copayments. Patient involvement in their ongoing care is critical, and enhancing the provider-patient relationship providers and caregivers are able to personalize a system in which many patients feel like a collection of spare parts being moved from one mechanic to another. A patient’s mental state is often profoundly linked to the success or failure of their treatment, enhancing outcomes by enhancing care can provide a feeling of deep satisfaction to all parties concerned.