By Michael Morgan, CEO, Updox.
Whether it’s using FaceTime to catch up with friends across the country or web conferencing in the workplace to save the time and cost associated with business travel, video has become pervasive in almost every aspect of our everyday life. But there is one major exception: healthcare. While there is great promise in telehealth, the healthcare industry has been slow to adopt video solutions – even when the demand clearly exists.
Three-quarters of consumers say they want the same experience in healthcare that they get from other businesses, according to “The Consumerization of Healthcare” survey by Econsultancy. About 60 percent of individuals under age 55 say they would consider it “life changing” or “very useful” to use video chat instead of going for a routine in-person visit with their provider. And an equal number indicate they would be very likely to switch to a provider that offered video appointments and online booking, among other consumer-friendly options.
So what’s holding healthcare providers back from integrating video into their practices? Much of the hesitancy revolves around reimbursement and perceived complexity.
Under Medicare rules, telehealth services are typically reimbursable only if they are provided for beneficiaries who live in certain rural or underserved areas. And for non-Medicare patients, reimbursement is not uniform; the amounts depend on the local jurisdictions and what individual insurers will pay. While providers truly want to provide more remote services, the inconsistencies and varying rules for how they can be reimbursed have resulted in providers taking a cautious approach to implementing these offerings.
But worrying only about what can be billed is also short-sighted. The value in telehealth goes far beyond that. Instead of focusing only on reimbursement, consider the big picture. Factor in the ease and convenience for both the patient and the provider. Think about how telehealth can improve health outcomes by increasing patient engagement, not just access to care. Start using telehealth now and take advantage of reimbursements that are available today, depending on local payers and their rules. This positions practices — and patients — to be familiar with the technology and to capture additional reimbursements that will inevitably become available in the future.
A Focus on Simplicity
Early adopters of telehealth solutions have tended to overbuy for what they need, focusing on point solutions, and likely aren’t considering if, or how, they integrate with other productivity solutions used within the practice. Other providers are scared off by the high price tag of dedicated telehealth platforms, as well as the complexity for both patients and practitioners of using them for remote service offerings.
With the fast-evolving technology and ongoing consumerization of healthcare, it’s vital to consider patient needs and practice efficiency when making telehealth purchases. There are many other use cases, beyond remote services, that providers should consider when evaluating telehealth platforms to ensure their investment is maximized and they can provide more value to their patients. For example, consider how telehealth can be used to:
- Replace phone calls for day-to-day communications with an added personal touch, whether it’s internally between staff or consulting physicians or with patients.
- Conduct appointments that are not billable, but would normally require an office visit, like post-surgical follow-ups or routine check-ups.
- Answer questions or consult on minor illnesses or injuries that do not necessarily require an in-person visit.
- Get expert or second opinions from specialists that may or may not be billable.
In addition, telehealth solutions enable practices to improve care coordination, patient adherence checks and chronic care management activities to support value-based care and population health initiatives. Once telehealth is integrated into their practices, individual providers will surely find their own additional uses that fit their needs and those of their patients and be ready to bill.
Regardless, the best solutions require no special app to download and must be capable of reaching patients and other providers where they are – on their mobile devices – working like FaceTime in a secure, HIPAA-compliant manner. And they should be cost-effective, directly integrated into both the providers’ and staffs’ workflows, resulting in a return on investment that includes improved efficiency and capabilities for delivering better patient services.
Convenience is the Key
The value of telehealth goes far beyond just how much a practice can be reimbursed for offering remote services, and it works best when it is convenient. Given the option, about 90 percent of telehealth patients say that when possible, they prefer talking to doctors over video chat versus making appointments and traveling to in-person visits.
Forward-looking practices are successfully using telehealth in lieu of in-person consults, cutting down on needless office visits, saving practices’ time and money, and making it more convenient for patients to receive care. When combined with secure text messaging, telehealth can go a long way in helping lower care costs, making patient care and communication more effective and engaging, and enriching the overall experience for healthcare consumers and providers alike.