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How Telehealth Affects Travel and Wait Times

Posted: October 18, 2021

Patients avoid seeking treatment for a host of reasons, many economic or personal. But an underappreciated factor in this low incidence of voluntary, regularly scheduled care, is the effect of lengthy travel and excessive wait times on people’s willingness to go to the doctor.

If an individual has to wait roughly 45 minutes every time they need to see a physician, they’ll be far less likely to schedule appointments. This causes them to wait until they experience an acute medical issue to seek treatment. In addition, many patients are forced to take time off work, or sacrifice already limited leisure time to devote instead to the task of seeking and waiting for healthcare.

For an increasing number of people, choosing to simply forgo care and hope for the best seems the most viable option. Many patients fall into this category. This is a gamble that can result in greatly increased care costs at a later time when issues are potentially more severe.

The Real Cost of Excessive Wait Times

According to a recent study by the Altarum Institute - a nonprofit health research and consulting organization - long wait times to access healthcare amounted to an $89 billion opportunity cost for the US population, as people sacrificed work productivity and leisure time activities.

Unfortunately, despite record investment in access and efficiency across the industry, statistics suggest measures haven’t gone far enough to address the imbalanced time investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a time-use survey of Americans taken over the course of 11 years, and over that time, the average travel and wait times for patients stayed about the same. Patients have accepted long wait times as a fact of life and have adjusted their behavior accordingly by not going to the doctor.

Reducing the Time Burden on Patients

Telehealth has proven to be a successful solution for the healthcare industry to address the burden of long wait times. In-home care and similar use of telehealth technology are instrumental in reducing the time burden on patients, as the average wait time for most telemedicine visits is 20 minutes. Many patients also feel more comfortable not needing to travel to an in-person office and having to wait amongst potentially contagious people in a small room.

Telehealth platforms also allow for more streamlined and efficient administrative operations, sending alerts to patients about upcoming appointments so they can plan better, and enabling physicians to interact remotely with a patient in real-time.

Telehealth platform software enables healthcare practices to improve scheduling, reduce paperwork, and improve interdepartmental communication. This all translates to a more efficient mode of operation.

As the widespread adoption of telemedicine across the industry continues, wait times will continue to decrease, benefitting patients and improving workflow at healthcare facilities.

Contact us today to find out how telehealth can cut down on unnecessary travel and patient wait times at your facility.