The dream for many telehealth startups a decade ago was to create a virtual clinic, download an app, see a board-certified doctor in minutes for a video consult, and finish the visit with a prescription already routed to the patient’s pharmacy. No more scheduling appointments weeks in advance, nor more driving, parking and waiting.

While that dream has become reality with companies like Teledoc, American Well, MDLive and Doctor on Demand all offering some variation on that model of telehealth, the companies soon recognized that significant growth opportunities were more likely in helping large medical institutions solve gaps in staffing and shortages in specialists.

With the shift toward value-based healthcare, large medical systems are looking for efficient, low-cost ways of caring for common conditions. The value of relieving medical staff of scheduling, coordinating, rescheduling and managing providers’ daily time for routine health problems has not been lost on the big medical systems.

Seeing the cost-saving value of providing telecare, large institutions like UW Medicine in Seattle now offer $35 virtual clinic visits. Just fill in an account form like signing into Amazon, click to request care, answer a few questions and in a few minutes speak with a medical professional, who can even prescribe medication if needed.

According to Modern Health, Cleveland Clinic, Community Health Systems and Providence Health all have turned to telehealth as a means of providing more efficient care, and freeing staff physicians and specialists for more complex health needs. Whether they turn to teledoc companies that supply telehealth staffing, or they provide their own staff, more and more, telehealth is being implemented as a means of extending hours and delivering more convenient, lower-cost health services and to fill gaps in staffing.

To the latter need, a new specialty is emerging called telenocturnists, physicians who provide care remotely to hospitals having difficulty staffing night shifts in the ER or intensive care units. The name was first coined by Seattle physician John Nelson, MD, who founded the Society of Hospital Medicine, a national organization of hospitalists.

At that time nocturnists were often interns, overworked residents or single or retired doctors who didn’t mind working off hours. With the advances in telehealth together with the difficulty of maintaining staffing for off-hour and night shift support the telenocturnist became a recognized sub-specialty that handles everything from floor calls to admissions to rapid responses and codes.

As an example, in an article in mHealth Intelligence night shift nurses at Christus Mather Francis Hospital in Sulphur Springs, Texas (an hour and a half from Dallas), are able to consult with doctors via video through a partnership with Access Physicians.

Chris Gallagher, MD, chief medical officer and co-founder of Access Physicians told mHealth Intelligence that he sees the telemedicine platform serving different needs in different environments. In rural settings, it gives hospitals instant access to physicians and puts off the need to transport a patient to a distant hospital with a larger night staff. In urban areas, it enables hospitals to reduce their off-hours staffing needs and choose from a larger talent pool.

In Mississippi, the distribution of physicians has made telemedicine a core part of the state’s healthcare system. With most specialists concentrated in urban areas, the University of Mississippi Medical Center serves as the state’s central telehealth provider. The Center for Telehealth connects patients and caregivers to UMMC health care providers remotely, in real time, using video calls and interactive tools. It was recently named one of two centers of excellence for Telehealth in the nation by the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The medical center provides over 35 specialties in clinics across the state connected to the UMMC telehealth platform allowing patients from many rural areas to access care without having to travel to Jackson.

More than 500,000 patient visits in 69 of the state’s 82 counties have been recorded since the center began with just three sites, expanding to more than 200 sites today, not including the homes of patients, according to Dr. Lou Ann Woodward, UMMC vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

At any gathering of healthcare providers, staffing shortages continues to be a topic of concern. While rural hospitals have been hit hardest, the shortage of professional staff is affecting everyone, physicians, hospitals, and patients. As is being demonstrated all across the country, however, telemedicine is a solution that is working, and is likely to expand rapidly over the next few years as the technology and tools available continue to expand.

PercuVision LLC’s mission is to improve patient care and safety by applying microfiber-optic bundle technology to commonly invasive medical procedures. The DirectVision Telehealth Hub connects patients with specialists by supporting a wide range of professional examinations through an all-in-one built-in HIPAA compliant telemedicine platform solution. Contact us via phone at (614) 891-4800 or use our online contact form.

Sources: Modern Health, mHealth Intelligence and UMMC press release and UWMC website