And what does digital first mean for telehealth?

The term digital first is becoming part of the wider conversation concerning telehealth services in the world of today’s healthcare dialogue. But what exactly does the term “digital-first” mean? Simply put digital first refers to a model of care where digital or telemedicine is the first choice for care. The default setting so to speak.

Traditionally the first choice and really the only choice for health care was an in-person, face to face appointment with a doctor or other healthcare provider. If a person felt sick or were injured and needed to see a doctor they called for an appointment, went to the doctor’s office, checked in for their appointment, and filled in any needed forms, then sat down in the often crowded busy waiting room to wait to be called for their appointment.

Once called back they might still wait in an exam room. Often patients are then seen first by a nurse or assistant of some kind. This person asks all the initial questions about what brought the patient in to see the doctor and checks things like temperature and blood pressure, height and weight if needed, and makes sure personal information and health history are up to date. Then the patient is again left to wait for the busy doctor to get to them.

This was just the way it was always done. Patients had to wait. Physically present themselves in the doctor’s office and then wait for their turn. Meanwhile, busy doctors hurried from one exam room to the next repeatedly apologizing to patients for keeping them waiting.

Why Digital First?

A digital-first model of care changes all of that. This approach to healthcare is gaining popularity from across the healthcare field. Not only with doctors and healthcare clinics and administrators but also with insurance companies. The push to begin with telemedicine where appropriate is coming from many different directions and in some cases, these different factions are working together to promote this digital-first approach.

When a digital-first approach successfully encourages telehealth services as a first choice there are many winners.

Digital First Benefits for Doctors

With a digital-first model doctors actually have a calmer work environment. There is no rushing between exam rooms. A doctor simply clicks on an appointment and their patient is there. No shows are reduced as many barriers to physically getting to an appointment are removed for patients. Patients are more relaxed as they are in a location of their choosing and have avoided the hassles of getting to the appointment and waiting to be seen. Sometimes a patient may need to be seen in person, but with a digital-first approach this can be assessed remotely, and often concerns can be resolved without an unnecessary in-person appointment.

Digital First Benefits for Healthcare Clinics and Practices

The benefits to healthcare clinics and practices with a physical location are numerous with a digital-first model. Telemedicine reduces no-shows and unnecessary in-person appointments both of which keep services running more smoothly and efficiently. When a physical location requires fewer in-person appointments the costs associated with the physical location are reduced. A smaller physical presence may be sufficient to serve the same number of patients. This means costs for utilities, office supplies, sanitation, and even administration are reduced. Telemedicine also allows a healthcare practice to more precisely customized staffing to suit the different levels of demand at different times.

Digital First Benefits for Patients

For patients, the digital-first model of care means they are often spared the hassles of an in-person appointment. When their healthcare needs can be met with a virtual appointment they can meet from a location convenient to them. This removes barriers involved in face to face meetings like childcare issues, time away from work, lack of transportation, and other personal issues. This also reduces additional costs to the patient in the form of paid childcare, time off work, and transportation costs. All of these things make healthcare more accessible to patients who need it. Telehealth appointments can also actually end up feeling more personal for patients as they are often more truly face to face than an in-person appointment with both parties looking directly into the camera.

Digital First Benefits Insurance Companies

Telemedicine is gaining popularity with major insurance providers as they see the many benefits it offers. Telemedicine often reduces healthcare costs. Obviously Insurance providers love this. Reduced costs in providing the same services mean that insurance providers can cover

services with the same level of care and sometimes offer patients access to an even better level of care at a lower cost. In that situation, everybody wins.