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Over the past few years, telehealth has been gaining in popularity providing patients with access to the specialty care they need. In this guest post, Jason “JD” Duigou, CIO of a company that provides healthcare service support products, talks about the role facilities management plays in telehealth.

The old-fashioned practice of doctors treating patients in their own homes, commonly known as house calls, was popular back in the 1930s and 40s. In fact, house calls accounted for 40% of U.S. doctors’ visits in 1940 – a number that diminished to 10% by 1950. Nowadays, house calls have become practically nonexistent. However, the Internet boom and subsequent rise in technology are paving the way for a new era of virtual house calls, now known as telehealth.

As we know, telehealth is the use of telecommunications and electronic information technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional public health, and health administration. In layman’s terms, telehealth is putting a 21st century spin on the old-timey house call.

Currently, more than half of all U.S. hospitals implement some type of telehealth program in their facilities.

Applications of telehealth can include real-time personal health and medical data (also known as remote patient monitoring), live or recorded video conferencing and mobile health, where public health information can be shared via targeted texts or cellular notifications about pertinent disease news, such as the latest outbreaks.

By increasing accessibility to doctors, physicians and specialists, telehealth ensures patients receive the best care at the right time and right place. As the number of telehealth programs continues to grow, consider the following when discovering the role facility management plays in the healthcare of the future.

Advantages of telehealth

Healthcare facilities implementing telehealth programs bring a multitude of benefits for their healing environments. For one, telehealth can bring health care to a patient who can’t physically travel, whether it’s due to their physical condition, a lack of transportation, psychological issues or geographic location. Additionally, when appointments are held via computer or phone, physicians can see a larger volume of patients in a shorter amount of time.

More patients being diagnosed in less time means better margins for the facility itself. On average, $86.64 is saved each time a patient receives their care online versus in a clinic or ER, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. When multiplied by hundreds of patients each day, the fiscal benefits of telehealth programs alone are astronomical.

How facilities management and telehealth work together

Urgent care centers, private rooms, doctors’ offices, nurses’ stations and emergency rooms are just a few of the many moving parts of a healthcare facility. While the physical space of a hospital is crucial to providing the best care possible, more times than not, a trip to a healthcare facility isn’t all that necessary. The American Medical Association and Wellness Council of America found that nearly 75% of doctor, urgent care and ER visits could’ve been handled via phone or video. The outcomes of these visits don’t differ, either. A study of outcomes for 8,000 patients showed no difference in care quality between telehealth appointments and in-person visits.

For facility managers across the nation, the rise of telehealth means a large shift in the way facilities are designed for a virtual space. Health care as we know it has been undergoing a major shift to population health with smaller, community-based healthcare facilities. Therefore, facilities management leaders must split their focus between a physical facility and a virtual one. When developing a mobile workforce strategy, healthcare providers should take those same facilities management services provided within the walls of a large hospital and become equipped to service smaller ambulatory centers.

Telehealth isn’t meant to replace healthcare facilities. Rather, telehealth makes health care more accessible to those who need it. Special environments for certain ailments such as severe issues with the lungs, heart or brain, require 24/7 care in a physical space, and they aren’t going anywhere. However, with telehealth on the rise, “boutique” hospitals that serve a purpose for one specific ailment are becoming the new normal.

Future of telehealth

We can’t discuss telehealth without commenting on wearable technology, such as Fitbits or heart rate monitors. These smaller, personal health devices will continue to inform patients about their own data in real time, allowing them to virtually share the news with their doctor, too. This way, doctors are linked to patients’ ongoing health and can utilize telehealth’s applications should an issue arise.

Additionally, virtual and augmented reality in the healthcare field has seen a surge in popularity over the years. Already, we’re seeing elderly patients with communication and cognitive reasoning issues operate virtual reality headsets to help foster their interactions.

Facility managers must adapt to these technological changes as the telehealth revolution continues to boom. After all, a video call could be the cure the next time you’re feeling under the weather.