By Dhaval Shah, senior vice president of medical technology, and Neha Vora, healthcare consultant of medical technology, CitiusTech
In the current COVID-19 disrupted world, telehealth has seen unprecedented growth in adoption, as it minimizes the risk of exposure and aligns with the concept of social distancing. This has made healthcare systems accelerate the adoption of these services and also rapidly scale their processes to address the growing need of virtual care, as opposed to in-person visits and services.
And the acceleration is anticipated to continue for the foreseeable future. According to a report by Global Market Insights, the telemedicine market is set to be valued at $175.5 billion by 2026. Today, more than 50% of U.S. hospitals provide telehealth services in some form or other, and to meet the anticipated market growth, many more hospitals will adopt telehealth in the coming years.
Increased demand for remote/virtual care combined with federal and state derestriction has provided the much-needed stimulus for health systems to fast track their digital transformation journey in this space. Studies predict that 30% of all care will be delivered virtually post-pandemic as people start to see telehealth as their first point of contact for urgent care needs.
This brings us to the real question that each healthcare system needs to ask: “Is the current telehealth strategy aligned for the post-COVID world – the new normal?”
Considerations for a mature telehealth strategy
With the regulatory flexibility and increased payer reimbursement models for virtual care, the need is to fully realize the value that telehealth can offer. Healthcare leaders need to consider the following areas while developing a mature telehealth strategy for their organizations.
- Integration & Interoperability: Telehealth solutions are currently being used as islands within the health system. To minimize disruptions, to drive efficiencies and to create an omnichannel experience for both patients and providers, telehealth needs to be layered within the existing healthcare processes. Telehealth solutions need to be integrated with systems including EHRs/EMRs, home monitoring devices, patient portals, HIEs, and analytics systems to help physicians gain a 360longitudinal view of a patient’s health. Integration standards such as HL7, FHIR, and X12 can be used to connect with clinical, ancillary and financial systems. Additionally, the Internet of Things (IoT) can help connect telehealth with medical devices such as remote cardiac monitors, home monitoring devices and more.
- Provider & Patient Engagement: Success of telehealth will significantly depend on its adoption by patients and physicians. Telehealth products and services organizations need to look at leveraging next generation technologies such as AI/ML, NLP to build chatbots, voice assistants, interactive virtual assistants, and digital coaching and outreach to engage both physicians and patients.
- Support Value-Based Business Models: Predictive analytics combined with telehealth can help organizations move from a highly scheduled, episodic experience to value-based care models that are dependent on long-term care management. Using advanced analytics, organizations can identify their at-risk patient populations, predict adverse events and risk of admissions. These patients can be remotely monitored through home-based diagnostics and equipment. Digitized medication management are some areas which have already gained traction.
- Privacy, Security & Regulatory Compliance: Many federal and state policies were loosened in response to the public health emergency. Organizations need to identify and plan for the changes needed to ensure their telehealth strategy meets legal, regulatory and clinical standards of care both now and in the long run. While HIPAA rules were relaxed for the emergency, CMS will start to re-enforce them after the pandemic and they will start auditing the telehealth platforms and implementations. Organizations must conduct a HIPAA compliance review now to identify and plan for any discrepancies or compliance issues. Healthcare providers and payers need to keep track of the regulatory and re-imbursement policy changes.
Clearly evident, speed and agility to adapt to the growing need for virtual care is going to be critical. Here are some key questions organizations must consider while assessing their readiness and preparedness:
- Have you identified the long-term goals and priorities for implementing telehealth?
- What are the success factors for your organization’s telehealth implementation?
- How do you plan to measure/demonstrate the success of your telehealth program/platform?
- Have you planned for the regulatory changes related to provider credentialing and reimbursements for telehealth across insurers?
- How will the telehealth solution fit into existing clinical and operational workflows?
- Does your telehealth platform provide integration points for your existing clinical and operational systems? If not, have you planned for custom integration efforts?
- How will providers access patient’s medical records before the virtual consult?
- Where will the clinical documentation for the virtual visit be done? How will this information be disseminated to those in need?
- Do you have an in-house team for continuous innovation and digital transformation of telehealth solutions to improve adoption and satisfaction rates? If not, have you considered partnering with another organization?
- Is your telehealth solution HIPAA compliant? Have you considered security and compliance for patient health protection laws?
Telehealth can change the way care is delivered by acting as a catalyst in the shift from curative to preventive care. Health systems, payers, government agencies, regulators and technology providers need to act now and work together to create a telehealth strategy that will last beyond the current situation.