As technology continues to advance on all fronts, patient- and provider-related activities are evolving, especially when it comes to delivery of care. Healthcare professionals (HCPs) are providing care through different channels, such as secure video and messaging. Patients can also seek care in more convenient ways—online self-scheduling is becoming a medical practice standard.
Telehealth, also known as telemedicine or virtual care, is leading the way in emerging healthcare technologies and it’s come a long way since the 1970s NASA remote care programs. In fact, in early 2019, Global Market Insights released a report on the global telehealth market, indicating that the market will expand to over $130 billion in 2025 (19.2% CAGR). Virtual care is the future of medical care. Not necessarily in a “robot doctor” kind of way, but artificial intelligence, for example, is already being used to optimize administrative and certain diagnostic tasks. With its proven benefits, telehealth adoption is rapidly increasing by healthcare organizations of all sizes:
- Improved access to care: greater reach to patients with geographical or transport concerns;
- Increased ROI: reduced overhead and no-shows, and increased revenue from new patients;
- Improved patient outcomes and satisfaction: increased patient-provider interactions and follow-ups.
Today, there are dozens of vendors specializing in different medical use cases. Additionally, there are two models of telehealth being offered, and it’s important for HCPs and patients to understand their options. So, let’s compare the two: Software as a Service Telehealth (SaaST) and On-Demand Telehealth (ODT). SaaST refers to virtual care platforms that enable HCPs to provide their patients with remote care via secure video and messaging. ODT refers to a third-party service that instantaneously matches its members with an HCP whenever they need medical care.
Software as a Service Telehealth
SaaST is meant as a supplemental tool for HCPs to deliver care. Consider the following scenario… Your trusted general practitioner, who you visit twice a year, incorporates a SaaST platform into her practice. After a regularly scheduled visit, she has some information she wants to share with you about a mole she examined on your neck but you’re not available to come into the office. Instead, you schedule a video appointment where you communicate through your smartphone, regardless of where you’re located. SaaST can be incorporated by individual providers, solo or group medical practices, health systems, disability management firms, employee assistance programs, and many more.
Virtual care platforms are meant to enable medical professionals and organizations to provide remote monitoring and care when needed. These platforms are not meant to replace the traditional delivery of care. In fact, many platforms offer practice management features to further streamline the entire patient and provider journey—scheduling, billing, reporting, etc. The primary stakeholder for SaaST is the HCP, but its impact on patients is just as important. Providers are now offering their patients convenient alternatives to care based on their needs and/or limitations.
Benefits of SaaST include, but are not limited to:
- Convenience: Patients can avoid the costs associated with an in-person appointment—lost wages and travel expenses—and providers can spend more time treating more patients;
- Continuity of care: The patient-provider relationship is an important consideration of patient outcomes. Receiving care from an HCP that is familiar with your medical history leads to better patient outcomes.
Challenges of SaaST include, but are not limited to:
- Delayed care: SaaST is typically used to schedule future video or messaging appointments, rather than providing patients with an immediate answer from an HCP. However, this is changing as immediate appointment functionalities are starting to be offered by SaaST vendors.
- Responsibility is on the providers: HCP and organizations are the gatekeepers for SaaST. Patients can request that their general practitioners offer virtual care options, but it’s ultimately up to that provider or their clinic to incorporate it into their operations.
ODT is meant to be an independent telehealth service that consumers can sign-up for. It usually requires downloading a mobile app and purchasing a monthly subscription. If you’ve had a headache for three days and want to speak to a doctor about it, you could log into the app and request an immediate appointment with the next available provider. Typically, ODT companies have a registry of physicians who will answer appointment requests. These appointments are often short and informational. ODT can be used by individual consumers and employees (if it’s incorporated into their health benefits plan).
ODT apps serve the separate purpose of providing instant medical attention for less urgent needs, such as verifying the severity of a lesion. These apps usually specify what kind of use case they’re best suited for. In the context of behavioural health, especially, ODT has proven to be a great resource for consumers who want to talk to an unbiased and independent HCP and there are many therapy-specific ODT solutions on the market today. Through ODT, patients are empowered to seek medical attention whenever they need it.
Benefits of ODT include, but are not limited to:
- Convenience: ODT offers a similar convenience as SaaST, in that you can access medical care through your mobile device if necessary. Additionally, being able to manage some of your virtual care needs from one single app is simple and easy to use for consumers.
- Speed: ODT offers people an immediate solution to receiving medical attention. Within minutes, you can communicate with an HCP—via video, phone or chat—about any medical questions or concerns you might have.
Challenges of ODT include, but are not limited to:
- No patient-provider relationship: The instantaneous nature of ODT doesn’t promote continuity of care and the patient-provider relationship. There is also no way for the HCP to fully know your medical history and treat you accordingly.
- Responsibility is on the patients: Individual consumers have to be proactive in downloading these apps and paying for the subscription. Receiving care is dependent on the patient and only the patient.
It’s important to start this conversation with the following: each telehealth delivery model serves its own distinguishable purpose. SaaST is meant to enable HCPs to provide secure remote care to their patients via video and/or messaging. ODT is meant to empower consumers to take control of their own health by receiving quick and convenient medical attention. Both options also serve as catalysts towards improving the adoption of virtual care by HCPs and patients.
However, SaaST is most associated with improved patient outcomes and satisfaction because it promotes continuity of care and the patient-provider relationship. While ODT can be considered as more convenient and simple to use, it’s simplicity seems to be the reason it doesn’t provide as many benefits as SaaST. Additionally, incorporating virtual care at an organizational level (medical practice or clinic) through SaaST is a key factor in improving telehealth adoption rates and standardizing virtual care.
If you're looking to launch your own virtual care service for your healthcare organization, learn more about OnCall Health here.