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Telehealth News Roundup: Winners & Losers in the ‘Sleeping Giant’ of Telehealth, Patient Demographics, Plus TelePsych’s Pitfalls and Potential

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Telehealth News Roundup: Winners & Losers in the ‘Sleeping Giant’ of Telehealth, Patient Demographics, Plus TelePsych’s Pitfalls and Potential

Telehealth has quickly become the new normal for healthcare as we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we reflect on 2020 and look forward to 2021, here is our monthly roundup of today’s important healthcare topics and trends in telehealth, including patient perceptions of telehealth, technology’s role in helping to provide exceptional care, and how mental and behavioral health fits into virtual care systems.

‘Sleeping Giant’ of Telehealth Awoke in 2020, and Here’s Who Rose to the Challenge

Healthcare IT News

While there’s no denying the quick growth of telehealth technology vendors after the COVID-19 pandemic began, the ability of those vendors to deliver seamless, quick services varies according to a report from KLAS. While focused solutions, like Caregility and Mend, have seen high customer satisfaction, telehealth giants like Amwell have started to lose traction. Read more here.

Psychiatry is Revealing the Potential – and Pitfalls – of Telehealth

Harvard Business Review

Telemedicine has expanded exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but there are still many challenges to overcome as telehealth becomes more mainstream in healthcare systems. One large hurdle comes in its application in psychiatry, which encompass more than 40% of patient visits. Read more here.

Balancing Tech and Patient Care in Telehealth: A Case Study with CallOnDoc

Forbes

Founded in 2017, CallOnDoc quickly rose above the competition by offering online behavioral and mental health consultations as well as expanding into remote management of chronic diseases. Forbes spoke with Rahil Saha at CallOnDoc to learn about their internal operations and how they balance convenient technology and providing exceptional care. Read more here.

Women Are Less Likely to Use Video for Telehealth Care

Healthcare IT News

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that older people, women, people of color, and those with lower household incomes are less likely to use video for telehealth visits. These results point out that there is still much work to be done to ensure telehealth is accessible for all patients, regardless of social or economic background. Read more here.

Poll: Most Americans Plan to Use Telehealth After the Pandemic

MedCity News

According to The Harris Poll, nearly 65% of people plan to continue using telehealth after the COVID-19 pandemic ends – additionally, 83% of all respondents had never used telehealth before. The survey also noted differences in how people would want to use telehealth; most want to use telehealth to ask medical questions, review lab results and get prescription refills. Read more here.

For more information on the latest trends in telehealth, check out ourresourcesandblog.

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6 Musts for Choosing a Mobile Telehealth Solution

COVID surges around the country have shown that sometimes hospitals and healthcare providers need to get a mobile telehealth solution up and running or expanded quickly — and in times like those, the best telehealth solutions are often ones which don’t include the need to bring in carts or extra telehealth equipment.

Mobile telehealth systems offer a less complex, less time consuming and less costly alternative to dedicated hardware networks for organizations aiming to develop a stronger telehealth presence and harness virtual technology to enhance the efficiency, safety and quality of care.

Besides virtual visits, mobile technology which can run on the devices on hand provides opportunities to support remote patient monitoring, bolster communication and collaboration among clinicians and specialties, replace lost revenue due to fewer in-person visits, and explore new patient-centered revenue streams such as subscription concierge services.

Following are six things for healthcare leaders to look for when evaluating an effective mobile telehealth solution.

Evaluating Telehealth Mobile Solutions

A long-term telehealth solution flexible enough to support future expansion

A mobile solution may be quicker to stand up than the alternatives, but don’t lose sight of your organization’s larger, long-term view. Consider a multi-faceted solution flexible enough to accommodate a variety of inpatient and outpatient services and which can expand as your organization’s goals, priorities and services change.

Putting technological band-aids on a variety of different problems as they arise can create the same kind of fragmentation that virtual technology is designed to prevent.

In addition, approach the evaluation and implementation of a mobile telemedicine solution with an expanded view of telehealth’s possibilities. Telehealth is more than virtual office visits in ambulatory environments. Mobile platforms can also be used in a variety of inpatient settings to support remote consults between clinicians within and across facilities. It can also facilitate safely distanced communication with patients in infectious environments and much more.

A telehealth solution that is purpose built for healthcare

Work with a telehealth solution provider who understands the complex and unique workflows, processes and procedures of a clinical environment.

When the pandemic began, many organizations scrambled to cobble together systems using a variety of platforms that were not designed specifically for healthcare. Many of these makeshift telehealth systems raised concerns about privacy and caused other glitches, not only because they were rolled out quickly, but also because they were never intended to be used in healthcare. It was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Look for a telehealth platform whose developers, staff, telemedicine software and devices all have a solid grounding in how caregivers work and how healthcare organizations function.

A user-friendly interface which doesn’t require patients to download an app.  

Telehealth software or mobile applications that aren’t simple won’t be used. They’ll be resented, and that resentment could end up interfering with care.

Asking patients to set up an account and fill out forms online to download an app only adds unnecessary clutter, time and frustration to a process that should be streamlined, uncomplicated and even pleasant. Ideally, you want to be able to send patients a direct link on their mobile devices that allows them to connect to their doctor or nurse with a single click. Patients, including those who are less computer savvy, may avoid an appointment altogether rather than face the hindrance of trying to make a connection.

Clinicians also appreciate, and work more effectively and efficiently with, a simple, intuitive interface with high quality video and audio that reliably connects them with their patients and colleagues in remote locations.

Clinician involvement in implementation and workflow development

It’s a fundamental truth of health information technology that any system must be designed with input from and consideration for the needs of the end users. The same holds true for the best telehealth solutions for healthcare.

In which departments will you be using the technology now and in the future? How does the technology need to be adjusted to fit the specific needs and workflows of different departments and locations? Are the telehealth devices at the patient’s bedside going to be used by patients, by staff or both? Do you want the patient to be able to call to request a video visit? How do these factors vary across units?

HIPAA-compliant security features

Though healthcare providers are not subject to penalties for violations of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules that occur in the delivery of telehealth services during the pandemic, cybercriminals have been working to take advantage of the vulnerability in the current environment, which means healthcare organizations must protect their systems and their patients from these rising threats; hence, the need for a vendor whose offerings have HIPAA-compliant cybersecurity features baked in.

A partner that is a cultural match for your organization

Is your health system more independent or do you prefer a closer, more collaborative, long-term partnership? Some organizations prefer to take a product and run with it, handling testing, implementation and training primarily on their own. Others prefer a vendor that’s joined at the hip with them and prepared to be deeply involved every step of the way.

Know your organization’s and your potential partner’s culture and expectations for the relationship in deciding whether you’re a good fit for each other. A mismatch can cause discomfort and jeopardize an implementation.

The rapid expansion of telehealth services kickstarted by the pandemic has forever changed the face of clinical care and patient expectations for how that care should be delivered. Healthcare providers would be wise to weigh the potential benefits of incorporating mobile telemedicine solutions into their larger telehealth expansion plans.

To see how Caregility in expanded telehealth for two organizations, check out our Resources page, and click “Case Studies.”

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Telehealth News Roundup: Augmented Intelligence, Cybersecurity Challenges, and a Host of Other 2021 Predictions

As healthcare and its use of telehealth products and services evolves rapidly, it can be challenging to stay up to date. As experts look forward to 2021, it’s clear that new technologies will continue to play a role in how telehealth services expand and whether or not systems have the cybersecurity in place to keep patient data safe and secure. Learn more about the current happenings in telehealth in our monthly roundup.

7 Predictions for How Technology will Shape Healthcare in 2021

TechRepublic

The use of technology in healthcare during 2020 has skyrocketed, spurred mostly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for virtual care solutions. Looking ahead to 2021, experts say technology will continue to play a role in healthcare as 5G networks, artificial intelligence and the need for more virtual care options all expand. Read more here.

2021 Will Become Even More Virtual

HealthIT Answers

In an annual tradition, HealthIT Answers gathered healthcare leaders from around the country to make predictions for the coming year — including, this year, Caregility COO Michael Brandofino. “Combining Augmented Information (aka AI machine learning) with wearables and two-way video will be a game changer for virtual care,” Brandofino said. Read more from him and other healthcare leaders here.

With Telehealth, One Size Won’t Fit All

Healthcare IT News

As health systems across the country have expanded their embrace of telehealth platforms, it’s clear that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. While scalability is key, healthcare providers have to think about who they’re trying to help, where those patients live, and what devices those patients use to get the care they need. Read more here.

What One Health System Learned About Providing Digital Services in the Pandemic

Harvard Business Review

Even before the pandemic, Utah-based Intermountain Healthcare was ahead of the curve in employing telehealth. From 2015-2019, the health system had 830,000 patient interactions, an average of 454 per day. So far in 2020, they’ve had 1.3 million interactions, close to 4,300 per day. CEO Marc Harrison shares seven of the biggest lessons he’s learned from the shift to telehealth. Read more here.

Telehealth, Vaccines Will be Big Cybersecurity Challenges in 2021, Experts Predict

Healthcare IT News

The latest security industry forecast from Experian warns that cybercriminals will use strategies employed during the COVID-19 crisis to try and breach more healthcare systems in 2021. Experts say that it’s critical that healthcare systems continue to strengthen cybersecurity programs all while trying to provide faster and better care for patients. Read more here.

For more information on the latest trends in telehealth, check out ourresourcesandblog.

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Improving Care in Progressive Care Units Through Telehealth

As COVID-19 cases have surged this winter, hospitals across the nation have struggled to meet the needs of severely ill patients. Many facilities are facing a shortage of beds and staff members to provide adequate care. By early December, a record number of 100,000 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, putting a fearsome strain on hospitals and staff.

Against this dire backdrop, the value of telemedicine has never been so clear. For example, the “tele-ICU” uses real-time audio, video, and electronic monitoring to connect critically ill patients to a dedicated team of intensivists and critical care nurses who are based in a remote telehealth center. The benefits of tele-ICU have been well-documented: in addition to preserving the health and safety of healthcare workers, hospitals using tele-ICU have reduced mortality rates, safely decreased the average length of stay for patients, and improved adherence to clinical best practices.

The value of telehealth isn’t confined to the ICU. Researchers have now shown that using telemedicine within hospital progressive care units (PCUs) also has a positive impact — for patients and hospitals alike.

What is a Progressive Care Unit?

Progressive Care Units (PCUs) were introduced as a way to manage hospital patients who need an intermediate level of care: more care than is provided on a general medical floor but less than in ICUs, where many patients require ventilator support and continuous invasive monitoring. Also known as “step down” or “high dependency” floors, progressive care units are often the next step for patients leaving the ICU — patients who need monitoring because they are at high risk for complications. Patients in PCUs still need a high level of skilled nursing care and surveillance but they are more stable than patients in ICUs.

The Impact of Telemedicine in the PCU

Can telemedicine be effectively used to manage the treatment of patients in progressive care units?

That’s the question a team of researchers addressed in a large-scale study of a health system in Florida. Published in Critical Care Medicine, the study was the first of its kind. “Although there are many studies about the effects of telemedicine in ICU, currently there are no studies on the effects of telemedicine in PCU settings,” the research team noted.

Using a retrospective, observational approach, the team examined primary data from patients admitted to PCUs between December 2011 and August 2016 across five hospitals in the South Florida region. Since not all PCU beds at these hospitals were equipped to use telemedicine, patients who did not receive telemedicine served as the control group. In total, the researchers examined the experience of 16,091 patients, including 8,091 admitted into telemedicine PCUs and 8,000 admitted into non-telemedicine PCUs.

What did they find? First, patients in the telemedicine PCU group were 44% more likely to survive compared with patients in the non-telemedicine PCU — even accounting for the fact that patients in the telemedicine PCU were older and had higher disease severity and risk of mortality. Second, patients in the telemedicine PCU group saw a decrease in their hospital length of stay, when compared to the control group. And finally, decreases in mortality and length of stay among patients in the telemedicine PCU group were achieved “without substantial cost incurrences” to hospitals, the study found.

Transforming PCU Care Through Telemedicine

Progressive care units are gaining traction in hospitals across the nation as a strategy for freeing up beds in ICUs for the most acutely ill patients — a chronic challenge that has only become more critical during COVID-19. The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses first recognized progressive care as a nursing specialty in 2004 and today it is one of the fastest growing nursing specialties.

The growth of PCUs will only continue, researchers predict, as a result of the country’s aging population, increasing costs of care, and shortage of intensivists. Simply put, hospitals cannot afford to admit low-risk patients to costly ICUs just for monitoring purposes.

Just as telemedicine has proved to be an effective strategy for improving — and expanding — care for patients in the ICU, it has the potential to improve care delivery in PCUs by allowing for additional remote monitoring of critically ill patients.

Whether a patient in the progressive care unit is recovering from a stroke, has started a potent drug regimen that requires monitoring, or has recently suffered a heart attack, telemedicine allows an on-site caregiver to connect with a remote expert intensivist. With access to the patient’s vitals and electronic medical record, the off-site providers can write orders, provide continuous monitoring, and answer important questions.

In the months to come, equipping more progressive care units with telemedicine capabilities could improve patient outcomes and bring sorely needed expertise to hospitals without intensivists on site 24/7, especially for rural hospitals, which are particularly vulnerable to the shortage of critical care specialists.

Learn how Caregility can provide the technological support you need to equip your step-down unit with around-the-clock monitoring of critical care patients.

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Telehealth News Roundup: Growing Telehealth Acceptance, Emerging Research, and Could AI Detect Asymptomatic COVID-19?

As healthcare and its use of telehealth products and services continues to change and evolve fast and furiously, it can be difficult to stay on top of it all. Yet the pace of news, research, and innovation is accelerating, from emerging research on COVID-19 to advances in AI. There are new models for healthcare delivery to consider and exciting experiments in care delivery around the country. Here’s our monthly roundup of today’s important healthcare topics and trends in telehealth.

COVID-19 Survey: Doctors Like Telehealth and Want to Continue Using It

mHealth Intelligence

Nearly 70% of 1,600 healthcare providers surveyed recently by the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition say they are motivated to use telehealth more because of the experiences they’ve had during the COVID-19 pandemic. And more than three-quarters of respondents said telehealth helped them provide quality care for their patients. Read more here.

American Telemedicine Association Partners with ORCHA to Launch Review Process in the U.S. to Ensure Patients Have Access to Safe and Effective Apps

ATA News

Noting that 85% of health apps in the United States don’t meet quality thresholds, the American Telemedicine Association has announced a new partnership withORCHA(Organization for the Review of Care and Health Apps) to create a review process for the U.S. to enable healthcare providers, insurers, and employers to give patients access to safe and effective health apps. Read more here.

Pandemic Boosts Transition to Virtual Primary Care

Dallas Business Journal

The Dallas Business Journal reports that virtual primary care could soon become more common as employers and employees adjust to a new normal, where telemedicine is the preferred place of treatment. In January and February of 2020, Humana members were scheduling a few hundred telemedicine visits per day, and by April that number had increased to over one million. COVID-19 is accelerating the shift, eliminating most consumers’ reluctance to use virtual care. Read more here.

PCORI Researchers Are Answering Rapidly Emerging Questions about Telehealth

PCORI Blog

Researchers with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) discuss the expansion of telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, including how to best harness its capabilities and reach populations that have limited access to technology or need culturally tailored interventions. Read more here.

Artificial Intelligence Model Detects Asymptomatic COVID-19 Infections Through Cellphone-Recorded Coughs

MIT News

In a paper published recently in theIEEE Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology, a team at MIT reports on an AI model that distinguishes asymptomatic people from healthy individuals through forced-cough recordings, which people voluntarily submitted through web browsers and devices such as cellphones and laptops. The results, the researchers say, might provide a convenient screening tool for people who may not suspect they are infected with COVID-19. Read more here.

For more information on the latest trends in telehealth, check out our resources and blog.

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Telehealth’s Tipping Point: Consolidating Today for Scalability Tomorrow

This year telehealth was thrust into the forefront as health systems scrambled to react to the growing coronavirus pandemic. In virtually every COVID-19 War Room across the nation, healthcare organizations sought new ways to safely engage COVID patients and those self-isolating at home. For most, that meant quickly standing up or scaling existing programs to support growing demand for virtual care solutions.

This sudden increase in demand resulted in many healthcare providers resorting to stop-gap solutions just to get something in place. Many health systems are now juggling an array of siloed telehealth programs and solutions implemented when the pandemic struck that don’t have the flexibility, reliability and workflow dynamics suitable for the long term. By developing a strategy to centralize and consolidate virtual care operations, healthcare organizations can derive maximum value from telehealth resources and intelligently support future program expansion.

Use the Quadruple Aim to guide you

Most healthcare organizations are driving towards the Quadruple Aim:

  • Improve the Patient Experience
  • Improve the Clinician Experience
  • Improve Patient Outcomes
  • Reduce Cost and Consolidate Vendors

Telehealth is a powerful tool to improve access to care, streamline clinical workflows and control costs, but those savings can be offset by investment redundancies if there isn’t a focus on an overall strategy.

Many of the telehealth initiatives launched pre-pandemic were rooted in department-specific programs such as tele-stroke and tele-ICU. In the wake of the coronavirus, we saw an immediate need for virtual care resources that could support engagement efforts across the continuum of care. Many health systems have since pivoted to add new facets to digital care delivery, including the roll out of:

  • Remote employee health screenings to clear healthcare staff for work
  • Virtual visits to connect clinicians with non-emergent patients at home
  • Virtual observation to safely care for inpatients while limiting virus exposure
  • Mobile telehealth carts to support safe care delivery in EDs and pop-up sites
  • Smart device fleets to connect patients and families amid visitation restrictions

As the first wave of COVID hit, many of these programs were rolled out quickly as a reactive measure to help healthcare organizations get by. Now that we have reached a “new normal” in how healthcare is handled, virtual care has become a critical component in treating COVID-19 patients and other patients who do not want to visit a physical office. This provides a great opportunity for health systems to develop a strategy for how to operate in this new paradigm.

Centralizing telehealth operations

With any strategic planning, it is important to identify the current state, the desired state and the associated gaps between the current and desired states. It is equally important to consider the Quadruple Aim and include stakeholders from all of the critical components to ensure your strategy encompasses feedback from the various perspectives.

The sudden and rapid increase in demand during the pandemic exposed the failings of dedicated, hardware-based solutions. Health systems that leveraged cloud-based telehealth infrastructure were able to quickly scale without investments in hardware. Cloud-based platforms create a centralized operations hub for program expansion across the healthcare continuum. These platforms significantly reduce implementation timelines, as well as the resources required to maintain and update telehealth systems. Web-based solutions accessible via desktop, laptop, or mobile devices also bolster the flexibility of programs. A unified, enterprise-wide platform allows health systems to integrate stand-alone solutions to eliminate resource redundancies, as well as access comprehensive insight into utilization analytics.

Data is a critical factor in assessing the effectiveness of and adoption of your virtual care programs. Cloud-based telehealth solutions should include broad data capture and reporting in order to help organizations see the impact of their telehealth programs and overall utilization trends.

Finally, security is a critical factor that was missing in many telehealth stop-gap solutions. Look for a platform that supports single sign-on and dual-factor authentication, as well as integration with the leading EHRs and peripheral systems such as language support modules and mobile device management systems. Leverage mobile endpoints to support patient surge wherever it’s needed, reducing investment redundancies across departments.

Moving ahead with confidence

In 2020 we have seen validation of telehealth under the most extreme circumstances, fueled by ongoing public health concern and a long-running need for more innovative and convenient care paths. Whether you are replacing an existing solution, scaling existing programs, or just diving in for the first time, a centralized telehealth operations model is essential to meeting the evolving needs of patients and providers while maintaining virtual system security and integrity.

Learn how Caregility can help you create a centralized telehealth operations model with our overview brochure.

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Trends in Telehealth: News Roundup

As healthcare and its use of telehealth products and services continues to change and evolve fast and furiously, it can be difficult to stay on top of it all. We’ll update you monthly with a roundup of today’s important healthcare topics and trends in telehealth.

Congress Expands Telehealth Veterans’ Access for Mental Health Care

mHealth Intelligence

Mental health issues in veterans often go unnoticed – more than 20 veteran lives are lost daily as a result. Veterans will soon have more opportunities to use telehealth to access mental health services, following Congressional passage of a bill targeting the high suicide rate among service members. The bill authorizes the Department of Veteran Affairs to award grants for the development of telehealth programs for veterans, as well as reduce the barriers to access for veterans that are trying to use the programs. Read more here.

Is Telemedicine Over- or Under-Hyped?

Becker’s Hospital Review

A panel of health system IT experts, gathered by the Cleveland Clinic, weighed in with their responses, in an article published recently in Becker’s Hospital Review. Digital care is seen as the next frontier in medicine, and as telemedicine scales at an unprecedent rate due to the coronavirus pandemic, more attention must go toward how it impacts older models of healthcare. Read more here.

What are the 10 Factors in Patience Satisfaction with Telehealth

mHealth Intelligence

J.D. Power’s 2020 Telehealth Satisfaction Study identifies 10 key performance indicators that providers should use to ensure patient satisfaction. As a whole, the list puts outcomes as being more important than convenience or ease of use – stressing the importance of thoughtful and effective virtual care. Patients also desire a quality experience; they want to be comfortable using a virtual platform, feel listened to and think of it as easy to use. Read more here.

Using Telehealth to Make Patient Rounding More Efficient and Effective

mHealth Intelligence

Sri Bharadwaj of Franciscan Health explains how the Indiana health system uses telehealth to improve patient care and care team collaboration, “So, we found out that the way to actually accelerate care and improve care is to share the data simultaneous with several specialists (at) the same time,” he said. A connected care platform is key to providing all-round care for patients, despite the challenges that virtual care may present in coordinating care. Read more here.

Virtual Care After Surgery May be More Convenient for Patients

United Press International

Virtual follow-up care for surgical patients provides as much face time with doctors as in-person care, according to a new study. However, this isn’t a bad thing; total clinic time was 19 minutes virtually compared to 58 minutes in-person. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many surgical patients are being offered virtual follow-up appointments instead of in-person visits, the researchers noted. Read more here.

For more information on the latest trends in telehealth, check out our resources and blog.

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Using Telehealth to Monitor Patients and Protect Staff During COVID-19

Someone monitoring several patients at once through camera feeds on the computer

Caregility Vice President of Clinical Solutions Wendy Deibert recently sat down with Healthcare IT Today editor Colin Hung to discuss ways hospitals are using telehealth to monitor COVID-19 patients while keeping healthcare workers safe.

Virtual care recently skyrocketed to the top of the priority list for healthcare organizations as they sought ways to safely engage patients without contributing to the spread of the virus. Hospitals continue to ramp up telehealth services to:

  • Triage suspected COVID-19 patient cases
  • Monitor hospitalized patients while limiting COVID-19 exposure
  • Continue delivery of non-COVID-19 related clinical support

“I think it’s about getting the resource to patients no matter where they are. Clinicians of all kinds and types are spread so thin,” Deibert says. “Being able to scale and see more patients via virtual medicine is huge.”

Watch the full interview with Wendy Deibert to learn more about:

  • How she helped create the US’s first all-virtual hospital, Mercy Virtual
  • How virtual care can deliver great ROI
  • Equalizing care – bringing the same level of care to patients in rural areas
  • Where to start in implementing virtual care or sitting at your hospital

Read the full article on Healthcare IT Today: Using Virtual Care Inside a Hospital Makes an Impact

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CONNECT for Health and STAR Acts Poised to Promote Telehealth Adoption

In October of 2019, a bipartisan group introduced new legislation to expand U.S. telehealth services. Spearheaded by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), the Creating Opportunities Now for Necessary and Effective Care Technologies (CONNECT) for Health Act of 2019 aims to “improve health outcomes, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers.”

Currently, geographic and originating site requirements only permit Medicare beneficiaries to receive telehealth services if they are in certain rural areas and at certain clinical sites. The goal of the new legislation is to overcome these barriers, which are presently perceived to be limiting the use of telehealth services in Medicare. Several provisions from earlier iterations of the act have already been enacted, including advances in covering remote patient monitoring and other virtual services.

The new bill in part seeks to:

  • Give the HHS Secretary authority to waive telehealth restrictions if certain criteria are met
  • Remove current restrictions related to geography and originating sites, including but not limited to:
    • adding the home as an originating site for mental health services
    • removing geographic restrictions on certain sites for emergency medical services
    • allowing federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and regional health centers (RHCs) to furnish telehealth services as distant sites
  • Expand CMS research efforts to study the impact of broader telehealth model adoption

The current bill has received support from over 100 healthcare agencies, including the American Hospital Association (AHA), the American Medical Association (AMA) and the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS).

A companion bill was proposed in the House of Representatives in October, as well. Sponsored by Representative Josh Harder (D-Calif.), the Specialty Treatment Access and Referrals (STAR) Act aims to expand adoption of telehealth consultations to enable patients and providers to connect virtually with specialty providers in other locations. The legislation would establish a grant program to help healthcare organizations acquire necessary information-sharing and connectivity infrastructure to support telehealth adoption. While the fate of the two bills is still undetermined, both pieces of legislation have received wide bipartisan support to date.

Earlier this year CMS issued a separate final rule that updates the Medicare Advantage (MA) program beginning in contract year 2020. That final rule (CMS-4185-F) will implement certain provisions of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 that allow MA plans to offer additional telehealth benefits as part of the government-funded basic benefits.

All told, the recent uptick in legislative traction has been seen by many as a clear sign of momentum for ongoing telehealth expansion. As Caregility President and COO Michael Brandofino sees it, “This is long awaited legislation that will have a tremendous impact on changing the point of care. We have based our efforts on driving the fie rights of care and, until now, the ability for caregivers to provide remote telehealth was limited by funding. Many organizations chose to implement these programs even though reimbursement was limited or non-existent in some cases. These new measures and acknowledgement of validity and the benefits to patients from telehealth is a vindication that the early adopters were correct.We see this as a major win for patients and their care givers who will finally have these services covered.”

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Providers Expand Telehealth Roadmaps at ATA 2019: Four Things to Know

The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) recently hosted its annual conference and exhibit in New Orleans. Attendees were keenly focused on advancing programs and exploring next-generation telehealth capabilities. Instead of simply shopping for solutions and gaining knowledge, provider organizations attending ATA 2019 were poised to increase their telehealth investments and expand telehealth roadmaps across the entire patient continuum. Four trends emerged during the conference with long-standing impact for all: providers, payers and technology vendors.

Telehealth Interoperability Ahead

ATA 2019 began with the distribution of a comprehensive interoperability white paper to define and describe the value of interoperable telehealth systems, address challenges and discuss standards. As one of the paper’s contributors, I received an inside look into the association’s white paper and its conjoined position with ONC and CMS proposed rules to improve the interoperability of electronic health information.

One of ATA’s goals is to ensure telehealth data remains patient centric and helps connect the dots between healthcare IT systems at large, including the EHR. There is a growing need for telehealth solutions to maintain the integrity of every patient story, despite multiple systems, overlapping platforms and departmental requirements.

This drive for stronger telehealth interoperability is especially critical as providers merge, acquire and consolidate their IT systems. Flexibility to accommodate each organization’s preferred clinical platform was a key vendor requirement cited by nearly every ATA attendee I met and during most exhibit hall conversations.

Telehealth Roadmaps Expand

One of the most important discussions held during ATA 2019 focused on the need to build enterprise-wide telehealth roadmaps. Our strategy sessions lingered late into the evening and long beyond exhibit hall hours.

While each provider organization expressed unique telehealth needs, four questions were commonly asked:

  • How can we pull all our telehealth services together and avoid technology silos?
  • Where do we need to focus our time and energy when it comes to telehealth?
  • What’s required to build an enterprise-wide telehealth strategy across the entire patient care journey?
  • Which vendors integrate telehealth into the bigger clinical IT strategy and workflow?

ATA 2019 attendees are moving away from just dabbling in telehealth. They are testing new options and investing in a broader strategy based on a single telehealth platform.

One Telehealth Platform Preferred

No one wants to purchase or implement different telehealth systems to support virtual care. Instead, provider organizations attending this year’s ATA event demanded single telehealth platforms with flexibility to be implemented across all departments and use cases such as tele-ICU, telestroke and e-sitting in patient rooms.

Today’s users want to document clinical information, conduct video calls, check clinician schedules and perform all other telehealth functions within the same system despite varying clinical workflows and patient care scenarios. And preferably, the single system is embedded in the EHR so physicians can easily camera into a room and achieve optimal clinical efficiency.

Favorable Reimbursement Celebrated

Recent developments in the expansion of payer reimbursements for telehealth services were a huge buzz at ATA 2019. Good news raises all ships. Everyone involved with delivering telehealth services benefits when reimbursement improves.

For example, CMS recently approved a plan to eliminate geographical restrictions on telehealth access and telemedicine services in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans by 2020. The CMS plan also enables those in urban areas to use connected health technology, which gives MA members more locations to access care, including their own home according to the April 9, 2019 CMS news announcement.

Most attendees I met with agreed: As CMS and other payers improve reimbursement capabilities for telehealth, more consumers and clinicians will use virtual care as the most cost-effective and efficient care delivery method for specific patient populations.

Looking Ahead to ATA 2020: Specialization and Focus

Virtual care programs are expanding, telehealth is on the rise and provider organizations are figuring out how to make it all happen. Telehealth plans are now integrated into every clinical initiative with hefty investments ahead.

While attendance is smaller than at HIMSS or other general conferences, better questions are asked at ATA. And attendees are ready to buy and implement. Educational sessions and exhibitors are laser focused on next-generation telehealth solutions. Finally, attendees are well informed and know what they are looking for.

To borrow the phrase from a famous retailer, “An educated ATA attendee is our best telehealth customer.”

Learn more about how Yorktel’s Telehealth Consultancy services can help you build your roadmap today!

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