By Cigna Global Wellbeing Solutions
A systematic review of the research has found that for patients, telehealth is associated with improved outcomes, ease of use, lower costs, better communication, and a reduction in the need to travel.
By improving accessibility, telehealth offers a unique opportunity to improve provision for customers in underserved populations, such as rural locations and developing countries.
The Philips Future Health Index 2019 found that two thirds of patients were reluctant to visit their doctor even when there was a clinical need. The top reasons for not going were:
- Finding it difficult or unable to schedule an appointment
- Lack of time to go
- A general practitioner needed to recommend them to a specialist
- The relevant specialist not available in their area.
These are all areas where the accessibility and convenience of telehealth could help. Cigna Medical Director Dr. Inge Schrever has found that for her business area serving international organisations, governmental organisations, and Africa, their customers are in agreement. “We have found that we do not need to convince clients of the benefits of telehealth. They have access to a doctor; they can have peace of mind. Previously, it was difficult for them to decide, especially for customers staying in remote areas, they were doubting, should they stay with a risk of having their symptoms getting worse, or should they take the car and drive for a few hours, sometimes over 400km, to come to the conclusion that there is nothing wrong with them.”
It’s not just the end users who can benefit from improved access. Communication between clinicians in remote areas and specialists in other locations can facilitate the sharing of examination results, queries, diagnoses, and expertise. In the teleradiology field, for example, doctors being able to send medical information such as x-rays or scans to other doctors for expert analysis, is vital.
Designing telehealth solutions that are user-centric is key to their adoption and success.1 To make telehealth work for the user, it is essential that providers understand the market that telehealth is functioning within, particularly with reference to access to technology and cultural norms.
Given the importance of providing a personalised service relevant for the user, there are several elements of telehealth solutions that can be utilised differently. Remote areas can often suffer the double disadvantage of having both sparse medical facilities and low broadband connectivity. Therefore, the telehealth medium needs to be appropriate. For customers in an area where broadband is not available, they could have a phone call with a doctor, rather than a teleconsultation. Dr. Schrever confirms the value of a telehealth solution that meets the customer need, commenting “We should not forget the phone call; that’s of great value. It gives users access to something more than just the local clinic.”
As well as convenience, telehealth Dr. Schrever explains the value of reassurance in underserved populations. “It’s having their back; it’s an additional service that we can offer, especially to those in the most remote areas.”
Telehealth offers great opportunities to help healthcare meet the challenges of an increasing need coupled with static or even reduced resources. Successful telehealth solutions have the potential to facilitate increased access to care and improve patient outcomes at optimum cost.
 Kruse CS, Krowski N, Rodriguez B, et al. Telehealth and patient satisfaction: a systematic review and narrative analysis. BMJ Open 2017;7:e016242. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016242.
 Philips Future Health Index 2019: Transforming Healthcare Experiences. https://images.philips.com/is/content/PhilipsConsumer/Campaigns/CA20162504_Philips_Newscenter/Philips_Future_Health_Index_2019_report_transforming_healthcare_experiences.pdf. Accessed 22 August 2019.
 Philips Future Health Index 2018. Telehealth: Delivering value across institutional and geographical borders. https://www.philips.com/a-w/about/news/future-health-index/reports/2018/telehealth-delivering-value-across-institutional-and-geographical-borders.html. Accessed 22 August 2019.