34 FOCUS ON EDUCATION | 2018 | www.advanceweb.com I t’s incredible to see how far in advance a physician is booked with patient vis- its. Average wait times are now over 20 days, with some parts of the country report- ing wait times that are three times greater. Specialist visits can be even more affected, with wait times of six months in some cases. Currently in the U.S., we have fewer physi- cians per capita than 23 of the 28 developed countries in the OECD--way less than Austria, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland, for example. Unfortunately, this problem is expected to get worse. AAMC estimates that within 12 years, there will be a shortage of over 100,000 physicians in the United States. The reasons are many. Baby boomer docs are retiring, yet the aging baby boomer population still requires care; With the rising cost of education, there are fewer students going into MD programs in proportion to the general population. Even more importantly is the distribution of physicians. With more and more provid- ers choosing to live and work in the same urban locations, many parts of the country are underserved and the distribution problem, like the more general shortage, is expected to grow worse within that same 12-year timeframe. ADVENT OF TELEHEALTH Enter telehealth, with its rapidly growing pop- ularity fueled largely by its convenience for patients. Telehealth has become a multibillion dollar business worldwide, and growth projec- tions are impressive, with telehealth expected to reach many millions more patients in the next few years. The popularity is understandable. Patients can make and keep video visits without ever leaving the comfort of their home or miss- ing work. Costs are reasonable, often lit- tle more than the cost of a copay for a cash visit. Furthermore, wait times are minimal, and there is no need to deal with the second- ary inconveniences of getting time off from work, arranging transportation or dealing with crowed waiting rooms. Although a video visit cannot take the place of a direct examina- tion in all cases, innovative approaches have found solutions to many of the limitations of telehealth. For example, there are Kiosk-style services set up in remote locations and in the larger employer organizations. A patient can walk in and a nurse works with the patient on location while the doctor, miles away, sees the patient with the assistance of the local nurse. The nurse manages stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, blood work or any of the other local pro- cedures that the doctor would normally per- Providing for Our Patients: Administrators, Organizations and Direct Care Workers Bridge the Gap with Telehealth. By James B. LeVasseur, PhD ISTOCK TELE-MEDICINE  |  FOCUS ON EDUCATION