Once COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic and states across the country began issuing shelter in place orders, one thing became very clear: there was a crucial need for healthcare providers to adopt innovative solutions to continue caring for patients.
Practices needed a way to see their patients outside the office — and they needed it fast. As a result, telehealth quickly changed from a ‘plus’ or ‘nice to have’ to a requirement to stay in business.
At a time when many patients were quarantined and canceling appointments, practices were losing a significant amount of revenue. Telehealth provided a way for physicians to continue seeing their patients and keep their offices running.
Now that patients have become accustomed to the telehealth experience with their trusted physician, which is being provided by independent practices and large health systems alike, virtual care is on track to becoming fully integrated into our healthcare system. As we look ahead, healthcare providers will need to start balancing virtual and in-office appointments – and as they do, they will continue to adopt innovative new virtual care solutions that meet changing consumer expectations. Here is a look at what’s in store.
Meeting Patient Demands
According to the survey by Updox, around half of Americans say that if they were to use telehealth services post COVID-19, convenience (51%) would be among the most important factors to them. Drilling down deeper, of patients who like using telehealth services, 65% say it’s because telehealth visits are more convenient than in-office appointments. Additionally, Americans who like using telehealth like it because it’s easier to schedule an appointment via telehealth than an in-office appointment (44%), and because follow-ups/communications post-appointment are more streamlined (38%).
In the traditional healthcare environment, patients would often have to block out hours for a doctor’s appointment. But with telehealth, a visit can take as little as 15 minutes. This is not only more convenient for patients, but it also enables physicians to “see” more patients during the day. By using virtual care solutions, physicians can reach their patients at the touch of a button.
They can collect information ahead of the visit and send follow-ups out via text and even alert their whole patient base to important updates by broadcast messages. They can safely and effectively care for patients while helping reduce exposure to staff. Additionally, by leveraging video chat vs. a phone call, they can garner a stronger, more personal connection with patients, ultimately increasing patient engagement and satisfaction.
Two central Ohio-based companies committed to revolutionizing healthcare delivery have launched a new partnership, as Health in Motion Network’s (HIMN) ERxDirect pharmacy platform is now being powered by Updox, a platform that manages healthcare communications across both in-person and virtual care.
The two healthcare organizations signed a partnership agreement that integrates Updox’s HIPAA-compliant virtual care solutions, including video and secure text, into the Health in Motion Network’s consumer-direct pharmacy platform, ERxDirect.
The partnership provides the base for consumer-centered pharmacy care within Health In Motion Network’s total health engagement platform, which is already beginning to roll out across the country. The goal is to improve patient outcomes by uniquely connecting local health care, community pharmacies and urgent care centers with the innovation they need to compete in the future and remotely communicate with patients in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Updox has a great set of communication tools that fit perfectly with our overall patient communication strategy, which is key to the ERxDirect platform,” said Steve Weiker, chief technology officer. “Updox’s willingness to act like a true partner and make product enhancements based on our requests is truly appreciated. Their collaboration speaks volumes to the level of trust each party has in the other’s future.”
Updox’s healthcare engagement and communication software connects and builds relationships that help pharmacies and community health providers grow with more satisfied customers. Updox tech includes video, secure texting, online fax, instant messenger, reminders, notifications and more. The company’s HIPAA-compliant virtual care solutions protect patients and healthcare providers by streamlining communication and providing secure channels, supplementing the already robust Health In Motion Network, a connected and collaborative healthcare delivery platform that brings personal health management to the consumer’s fingertips.
“Healthcare has been forever changed by COVID-19. While lockdowns and stay-at-home orders forced many healthcare providers to quickly implement telehealth, the safety and convenience of it makes it a preferred option going forward for providers and patients,” said Michael Morgan, chief executive officer, Updox. “Pharmacies play an essential role in healthcare delivery and we’re excited to offer them opportunities to support their patients with consultations, medication therapy management and chronic disease care in ways that are safe, secure and convenient and help them grow their businesses.”
Powering up the Health In Motion Network platform will allow Updox to greatly expand its coverage. By partnering with the expansive Health In Motion Network, Updox will grow its pharmacy presence exponentially, from 400 pharmacies to more than 2,000 independent EPIC pharmacies in the Health In Motion Network as part of a national expansion. Pharmacy operators like Emlah Tubuo R.Ph., PharmD, who owns Powell Pharmacy in central Ohio, are already seeing what the platform can offer.
“I believe a community pharmacist can make a major change in the lives of patients,” she said. “With the ERxDirect platform, I see a totally different practice model for pharmacists in general. We are highly trained medical professionals who can do so much more than give medication to patients. We can work as an integral part of the treatment team.”
Health In Motion Network is specifically designed to enhance care delivery. The ERxDirect platform will move pharmacy care forward by elevating healthcare’s most accessible healthcare provider across the country.
Very few businesses today use fax machines, yet more than 9 billion faxes are still sent every year in healthcare, according to DirectTrust. Eighty percent of all serious medical mistakes result from poor communication, which includes fax. Simply put, every industry decreased or eliminated its reliance on the fax machine over the past decade – except healthcare. Beyond fax, healthcare’s dependence on manual communications is costly, inefficient and brings serious security risks.
According to Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma, there is no place left for the antiquated fax machine. In 2018, she issued a bold vision to transform patient care by improving communication and data exchange. She challenged the industry to make doctors’ offices “a fax-free zone” by 2020.
Why not push healthcare to go beyond that? Let’s look at all the ways inefficiencies and “doing things the way they’ve always been done” are holding healthcare back with manual processes, repetitive tasks and increasing frustration.
To replace fax, we must look at why it’s still being used. Fax is easy. Fax numbers are already programmed and shared. Faxes (usually) go directly to the recipient. But, the costs associated with faxing keep growing. The process isn’t efficient and it’s not at all secure in today’s HIPAA-compliant environment.
Yet, reports say nearly 90% of hospitals still rely on fax. Change is a challenge. Fax machines must become a thing of the past in order to bring healthcare fully into the 21st century. As those machines are eliminated, healthcare providers still need a way to exchange information and transfer documents. The need to exchange documents isn’t going to change but the way that is done – to ensure efficiency and security – has to change.
Are providers of all sizes ready for the end of an era? Understanding the true value and efficiency of eliminating fax is critical, but it has to be replaced with a solution that actually makes it easier.
Benefits Beyond Cost Savings
While physicians and staff are familiar and comfortable with using traditional faxing, this old school approach is an inefficient and costly part of both independent practices and health systems alike. Redundant work processes, like inputting information from faxes into electronic health record (EHR) systems, severely hampers productivity and profitability.
On average, providers spend upwards of 55 hours per month manually faxing based on a customer engagement survey by Updox. And for every 5,000 fax pages sent or received, a practice spends about $155 in supplies, including paper, toner, phone lines and shredding costs.
Plus, there are patient privacy and security concerns when using faxes. In recent years, researchers have discovered security flaws that can leave entire networks vulnerable from malicious faxes. Manual errors, too, result in protected patient information getting sent to the wrong number, which could lead to HIPAA violations and fines costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
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.