Telehealth opened the doors to remote care and cure at a time when visiting clinics for consultations became difficult. From just 11% in 2019 to 46% of consumers choosing telehealth in 2020, healthcare providers began seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients than they did in pre-pandemic times. Up to $250 billion of current US healthcare spend attributed to telehealth as healthcare providers continue to scale their offerings.
According to Mckinsey, 74% of survey respondents expressed high satisfaction with their telehealth experience.
With technology at its helm, telehealth is now getting as good as in-person visits, if not better. Artificial Intelligence (AI) has facilitated quick diagnosis and treatments with deeper insights and ensures that routine care is streamlined for better health. Data aggregation also has been helping healthcare providers as well as individuals predict patient behavior and detect patterns.
Besides, seniors tend to require at least twice the number of healthcare services as compared to younger demographics. Telehealth addresses all their concerns effectively to provide continued care in these rather difficult times. As per research by Deloitte and ATA (American Telemedicine Association), a significant portion of care, prevention, and well-being settings are expected to go virtual by 2040.
We are fast moving towards technological advances, interoperable data, and virtual healthcare systems that ensure continuity, connectivity, coordination, and care continuum. As Laura Hoffman, a senior research fellow at Yale Law School’s Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy puts it, “It’s not just technology. How does this transform the patient-provider relationship? What does it mean to have that relationship in terms of doing it virtually instead of it being in person? We are at a very dynamic time.”
Clearly, there’s a lot that still needs to be done on the telehealth front to make it viable for patients as well as providers and tap into its full potential.
Measures to improve telehealth
As we move into the future, we need concerted efforts by healthcare stakeholders along with the adoption of advanced technologies, redesigning of care models, and proper infrastructure to leverage the full potential of telehealth. After all, it goes way beyond the scope of virtual care to include different aspects such as chronic disease management, doctor visits, surgical support, and remote patient monitoring.
Here’s what we can do to make it better and more dependable.
Define a clear roadmap
A data-driven approach is what is currently needed to enable care journeys digitally. Rich clinical data will empower not just clinicians but also patients so that everyone is on the same page. For instance, a patient with a complex medical condition will significantly benefit if all the relevant observations are updated into the clinical record by different providers and made available in readily sharable formats to decide further course of treatment.
You need to augment your reach and expand your capabilities to move the needle in essential areas. You need to ask questions – Would customized online education facilitate awareness and patient satisfaction? Would remote monitoring increase patient engagement? Would increasing capacity help increase e-visits too? What security measures need to be implemented to address privacy concerns?
Both providers and payers need to work on building flexible provider networks to shorten wait times. Virtual health needs to penetrate the ‘brick and mortar’ healthcare system and should be embedded in provider workflows. Hospitals are now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to guide patients to the right care avenues.
Virtualize home care
This requires access to remote monitoring services so that specific clinical conditions can be monitored. For example, those with diabetes need continuous glucose monitoring, while those with cardiovascular conditions require regular monitoring of blood pressure and heartbeats.
An integrated approach and relevant patient engagement tools are required to include such devices into the care plans and encourage patients to play an active role in ensuring care. Besides, other monitoring systems and diagnostic kits such as home pulse oximeters, blood pressure machines, etc., also need to be factored in while ensuring a clear view for assessment.
Evaluate your IT infrastructure
User experience is paramount when it comes to the success of any telehealth initiative. Cloud-hosted platforms are now being increasingly used to support the virtual telehealth ecosystem. You need to also figure out which providers and healthcare partners need to be added to the delivery platform to ensure better collaboration among care providers.
Seamless data and communication flow among patients, cardiologists, therapists, etc., through video/ audio conferencing, messaging, and other forms of internet-based and mobile communications will then be possible.
You will also have to factor in what equipment you would require for communication as well as treatment. Laptops, speakers, Internet browsers, webcams are just a few of the many things you will need. Additionally, you will have to figure out the means to capture data from connected devices like blood glucose meters and blood pressure monitors too. Potential vulnerabilities in medical devices need to be addressed, along with risks associated with the deployment of third-party services.
Advanced technologies can help you tide over most challenges but having a clear perspective on things you need helps.
Regulatory barriers and their impact
The federal government did make temporary policy changes to make telehealth easily accessible during the pandemic. But we need to look beyond the pandemic, and efforts must be made to continue easing barriers to reimbursement.
Explains Dr. Diane Rittenhouse, a senior fellow at Mathematica, “People were seeing patients in the virtual space before they had the reforms to payment to get paid for it. They were doing it essentially for free. Now, payment reforms have caught up – but it’s unclear how long they’ll remain in place.”
She adds, “We’re asking for a lot of change in primary care over the last couple of decades. It’s good, and it comes from a good place, but these practices are being asked to add more team members, to work under different conditions, to adopt electronic health records, [and] to develop new population-based quality-measuring systems and reporting systems.”
The number of people availing virtual consultations has been significant primarily because they didn’t have to drive down to the facility physically. While The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has been highly supportive in facilitating telehealth, these rules should continue to relax to make remote care accessible to one and all irrespective of geographical barriers.
The Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) has even waived off penalties for HIPAA violations against healthcare providers that used conventional communications platforms such as Skype and Zoom to enable virtual care. But these breaches can have severe implications under normal circumstances, and care needs to be taken to ensure patient data remains private and secure at all times.
Broadband has to be accessible and affordable too, without which it would be impossible to leverage the full benefits of telehealth. Imagine you are deep into a call, and the connection goes off just like that, in a second. Also, when physicians are examining patients’ physical symptoms closely, it can be a futile exercise if the video call lacks the required clarity. Not everyone is tech-savvy, and connectivity issues can add to the frustration.
Last but not the least
Telehealth has immense potential and can improve outcomes significantly if efforts are made to expand access to care. Physicians are already reporting burnout as work stress continues. Telehealth programs, when implemented correctly, can bridge the gaps in healthcare now and forever for all. Not to forget the immense cost savings it can lead to.
Transition to telehealth with Trigent
Trigent can help your healthcare facility transform into an agile, robust network of digitally connected distributed entities to open doors to new and exciting opportunities in telehealth. Our domain knowledge and technology expertise help us work closely with stakeholders to meet the many challenges of care delivery in the telehealth sector.