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The IT Team’s Role In Getting Telehealth Accreditation

Devin Partida

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

Once a fringe technology, telehealth has become a standard offering in many healthcare systems. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth accounted for 43.5% of primary care visits, compared to less than 1% in February 2020. Now that more hospitals and patients are accustomed to the technology, it’s likely here to stay.

As telemedicine becomes increasingly prominent, more healthcare organizations may seek accreditation for these services. When they do, their IT teams will play a crucial role in the process. While telehealth is a multidisciplinary field, whether an organization can get accreditation for its telemedicine system rests primarily on the IT department.

Why Pursue Telehealth Accreditation?

Right now, telehealth accreditation isn’t a necessity for healthcare organizations, but that could change in the future. As these services grow in popularity, accreditation will likely become a payer requirement for many healthcare plans. Seeking this qualification now can help hospitals and other health organizations prepare for future markets.

Even if telehealth accreditation doesn’t become a requirement, it’s still beneficial. Having validation of high standards can comfort patients, helping draw in and retain them for their future care needs. This assurance can boost organizations’ confidence in their own systems, too, encouraging them to make the most of telehealth’s vast opportunities.

Accreditation also provides a roadmap for continuous improvement by helping organizations maintain minimize liability amid changing standards. As telehealth becomes increasingly common, understanding relevant best practices will become integral to a healthcare organization’s success. Any company that wants to capitalize on telehealth should pursue accreditation, which means more involvement from IT teams.

Privacy and Security

IT’s most critical role in getting telehealth accreditation is ensuring user privacy and security. Improper data management could result in HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) violations. Beyond HIPAA, different states have varying regulations that telemedicine platforms will have to comply with. Meeting these stringent requirements will require robust cybersecurity measures.

Since healthcare data is such a sensitive subject, accreditors will look for high data security standards. IT teams must understand where vulnerabilities may lie and how to patch them to prevent breaches. If IT workers can secure telehealth data from the start, it will lead to a quicker and smoother accreditation process.

Medical professionals understand what a telehealth system must offer to ensure quality care, but IT teams know the risks of data-sharing. These various stakeholders must work together to design a platform that enables seamless data transfer while preventing leaks. Without these security considerations, accreditation won’t be possible.

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What The CaptureRX Attack Means For The Future of Health IT

Devin Partida

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

The medical industry’s growing reliance on digital technologies has come with some increased risks. That became painfully evident for thousands of patients in the wake of a recent ransomware attack on CaptureRX, a healthcare administrative service provider.

On February 6, hackers accessed sensitive patient data from multiple CaptureRX clients, affecting at least 1 million people. The company started investigating after noticing unusual activity, and by February 19, it could confirm that someone had stolen patients’ personally identifiable information (PII). CaptureRX started alerting affected clients on March 30, and the full scope of the incident is still unclear.

Health IT’s Growing Ransomware Problem

This is far from the first instance of a ransomware attack on a health IT company. Ransomware as a whole has become much more common in the past few years, and medical businesses are more at risk than most. Hospitals have more to lose in these attacks, given the sensitive nature of their data, so a successful breach could be more profitable for hackers.

In 2020 alone, there were 92 ransomware attacks against healthcare organizations, affecting more than 18 million patient records. That represents a 60% increase over 2019 in the number of attacks and a 470% increase in records affected. Since 2016, these attacks have cost the industry more than $31 billion.

The CaptureRX attack is the latest in a troubling and growing trend of ransomware attacks against health IT. If industry leaders aren’t already aware of this problem, the sheer size of this incident will likely get their attention. With these attacks becoming more frequent and expensive, the sector will likely shift in response.

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5 Challenges Health IT Teams Are Facing In 2021

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

Devin Partida

Many aspects of modern health care are increasingly dependent on IT professionals. Here are five challenges those experts are likely to encounter this year and some potential solutions.

1.  Addressing the IT Needs of Rural Facilities

Many modern hospital processes require the internet. However, many hospitals are not in areas known for reliable internet access. These are typically rural facilities that often lack large IT teams.

However, these medical centers play substantial roles in the surrounding areas. Estimates suggest that rural communities account for 20% of the United States’ population. Hospitals are often among the primary places of employment for residents there.

Some IT obstacles at rural facilities relate to communication silos. However, a clinical mobility assessment could break down some of the barriers between IT professionals and clinicians. Moreover, investing in managed services can relieve the burdens at hospitals without large IT teams.

2. Coping With Too Many COVID-19 Vaccine Passport Standards

With COVID-19 vaccination programs rolling out in many countries, merely getting the appropriate number of shots is insufficient. People must also prove they did so. For now, they usually have paper vaccine cards with handwritten details.

However, several companies are working on digital vaccine passports. Those could prove vital for helping vaccinated individuals attend a concert or sporting event, travel abroad, or even dine in a restaurant.

People with knowledge of the matter say a primary issue is that there are currently four standards used for these projects and no sign of world leaders agreeing to stick with just one.

A related matter is that the United States alone has dozens of public vaccination databases. Implementing a system where a passport app could retrieve information from all of them requires one standard.

It’s also not clear whether people will need different vaccination apps depending on their desired activities. Since so many details remain unknown, the best thing for health IT professionals to do now is stay abreast of progress and consider how developments could affect their work.

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Impact of New Physician Fee Ruling On Health IT

Devin Partida

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

On Dec. 1, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released its final ruling on policy and payment changes to the Medicare Physician Fee Schedule (PFS) for 2021. Beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, the final adjustments from CMS went into effect.

Primarily, the changes focus on expanding the services that telehealth covers and making them more permanent. In addition, CMS lowered the conversion factor for 2021. However, through expanding remote services and changing limitations on payments, it’s now critical to see how Health IT will need to adjust.

IT departments have a unique set of responsibilities throughout the pandemic. As more services become available through telehealth, the organization must focus on securing those interactions and all the patient and business data that comes with them.

The Changes From CMS

The changes from the CMS ruling ultimately affect how health IT operates. New dynamics entail increased health IT services.

Topping the list of changes, the ruling cites a decrease in conversion to $32.41, down from $36.09. After reducing the conversion rate, CMS then estimates Medicare spending will increase by $10.2 billion in 2021. This change makes room for the industry to add more services in the telehealth sector, which has been invaluable for staying safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accordingly, the ruling expanded what qualifies as a telehealth service that Medicare will cover. Clinical social workers, psychologists, physical therapists, speed-language pathologists, and occupational therapists are all among the newest additions. They can now bill patients for telehealth services.

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How Medical Billing Records Tell A More Complete Story of COVID Patients

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

Devin Partida

Medical billing records may help create a fuller picture of how the COVID-19 virus has impacted the country.

Researchers have started taking to repositories of claim and billing code data to learn more about patients — who they are, what challenges they faced and how they had to navigate the health care system during a pandemic.

Combined with other data on the financial impact of COVID, this research offers a much clearer view of how the pandemic has impacted patients and strained the American medical system.

1. Chronic Kidney Disease May Be the Most Common COVID-19 Comorbidity

In July, FAIR Health, a provider of health care solutions, released a report on how billing records could reveal more about COVID patients’ stories. Most prior case studies found that type 2 diabetes and hypertension were the most common comorbidities. Respiratory conditions, like asthma, COPD and sleep apnea, along with heart conditions, typically made up the rest of the top 10.

The billing data was mostly in line with these previous findings — but had one key difference. The No. 1 comorbidity was chronic kidney disease and failure, rather than hypertension or diabetes.

The FAIR Health report also diverged from other case studies in finding that anxiety was one of the top 10 comorbidities, coming in at ninth place.

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New Health IT Tools Could Use Voice Screening To Assess Patients

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

Healthcare providers commonly listen to heart and lung sounds when examining people. They aim to pick up on abnormalities that give them more insights into patients’ conditions, and those diagnostic methods aren’t going anywhere.

However, pioneering research suggests that screening could also happen by analyzing someone’s voice with the help of artificial intelligence (AI). Here’s a look at some ongoing developments.

A Collaborative Effort Looks for Vocal Biomarkers

Even the most skilled physicians can’t always detect signs of trouble during a patient’s routine examination. That’s especially true if a person does not have external symptoms. However, biomarkers indicate possible abnormal processes within the body. Scientists have linked some of them to cancer and high cholesterol, for example.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently teamed up with an Israeli company called Vocalis Health. The two organizations initially worked together to learn about voice-based biomarkers for pulmonary hypertension — an often undiagnosed condition that causes high blood pressure in the lungs. The earlier efforts established a connection between the disorder and specific vocal qualities. This recent undertaking seeks to identify the specific vocal biomarkers associated with the medical problem.

Vocalis Health’s technology works on any connected device, and it provides a noninvasive way to check for medical problems. Although this current initiative focuses on only one disorder, there are plans to expand the technology to apply to other issues.

Researchers Working on a Voice-Based COVID-19 Screening Tool

Predictive analytics tools have furthered impressive progress in the medical sector. However, they are not free from bias. Some medical technology companies strive to build algorithms that treat the data as objectively as possible. For example, one company combines three models to get a more holistic view of patient outcomes. It also identifies people across diverse populations to avoid overlooking underserved groups.

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5 Digital Health Services That Are Here to Stay

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented the medical industry with one of its most significant challenges yet. While the virus has pushed health care systems to their breaking point, some positives have arisen from this hardship. The demand for digital health services has skyrocketed, and many of these tools will continue to improve health care after the pandemic.

Healthcare organizations have had to turn to new technology in response to the extremes of COVID-19. In doing so, the medical industry has become more resilient, safe and efficient than ever. Many of these technologies are so advantageous that they’ll become standard practice in post-COVID medicine.

Many digital health services will remain long after researchers find a way to halt the pandemic, but here are five of the most significant.

1. Remote Consultation Services

Few medical technologies have been as crucial during COVID-19 as telemedicine, specifically remote consultation. Between January and early June, telehealth adoption rose by 50% as concerns over catching the virus in hospital waiting rooms grew. In April, remote consultation accounted for almost half of all Medicare primary care visits.

Now that so many health systems support remote consultation, it won’t likely go away. These services have improved public safety and made health care more accessible. In a nation where access to health care has traditionally fallen short, that’s an indispensable resource.

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5 Ways Virtual Tech Is Advancing Healthcare

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the editor-in-chief, ReHack.com.

Healthcare technology is experiencing something of a golden age at the moment. The world is undergoing an unprecedented period of technological advancement, and the medical industry is at the forefront of this revolution. One of the most promising instances of this trend is the adoption of virtual tech in healthcare.

From virtual reality (VR) to teleconferencing to 3D modeling, virtual technology takes many forms. Nearly all of them have applications in the healthcare industry. These technologies show so much potential that 96% of medical centers plan to expand their use within the year.

Here are five of the most prominent ways virtual tech is pushing healthcare forward.

1. Reducing Exposure to Contagious Diseases

Perhaps the most popular application of virtual healthcare is telemedicine. Patients can consult medical professionals using videoconferencing technology. Since they don’t have to go to a hospital, they don’t have to expose themselves to other, potentially contagious patients.

The reduced need for hospital visits has proven particularly advantageous during the COVID-19 pandemic. Telemedicine interactions increased 37 times over from February to April, during the height of the outbreak. Virtual communication allowed people to access healthcare without risking contracting the virus.

2. Reducing Medical Costs

Eliminating frequent hospital visits can also save patients a considerable amount of money. An emergency room visit costs $1,917 on average, and not every condition warrants a hospital trip. By contacting medial experts through virtual healthcare instead, patients can avoid many of these expenses.

Hospital fees aside, telehealth saves patients money through reduced travel times. In a nation where health care costs are a widely publicized and controversial concern, anything that allows for affordable care is welcome. Some people won’t even seek medical attention due to financial troubles, so monetary savings could also save lives.

3. Making Expert Care More Accessible

Virtual tech in healthcare can also improve the quality of care patients receive. In some areas, especially more remote or impoverished locations, patients may not have access to expert care. Tech like teleconferencing and even remote-controlled medical bots can allow the world’s top doctors to help people virtually anywhere.

Hospitals can also explore the advantages of new tech or services through virtual exhibits and demonstrations. These interactive spaces allow staff to experience the benefits of a new system before paying for them. That way, hospitals can make informed decisions about purchasing new healthcare tech and possibly upgrading their services.

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How Vendor Neutral Archives (VNAs) Are Changing The Medical Landscape

By Devin Partida, technology writer and the Editor-in-Chief of the digital magazine, ReHack.com

Devin Partida

The healthcare industry, like many other sectors today, is becoming increasingly digitized and data-driven. This transition into a digital landscape comes with various benefits but can complicate some matters as well. As medical trends lean toward digitization, solutions for accessibility and interoperability are essential.

On average, healthcare organizations manage 8.41 petabytes of data, up 878% since just four years ago. At the same time, most of these organizations experience at least one data disruption a year. The medical industry needs better data management, and vendor neutral archives (VNAs) provide it.

VNAs give medical facilities an interoperable solution for data access. Here’s a closer look at how these solutions are changing the industry.

Increasing Data Accessibility

VNAs are one of the most promising healthcare trends today because they address one of traditional systems’ most glaring flaws — inaccessibility. A VNA is an archiving system that stores and consolidates data from across all departments in a facility. Thanks to their neutrality, VNAs can store nearly any kind of file and work on any system.

Vendor-specific systems make it challenging for staff to access data from different departments. With these approaches, doctors have to use various platforms to view different files, which can take precious time. The time doctors spend trying to access all the different data they need is time spent away from tending to patients.

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How COVID-19 and Telehealth Are Affecting Healthcare Compliance

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By Devin Partida, technology writer and the Editor-in-Chief of the digital magazine, ReHack.com

The coronavirus pandemic has caused massive changes around the world. As people adjust to the new normal, they may notice some differences associated with COVID-19 and telehealth. Here’s an in-depth look at those changes.

Telehealth adoption rising

United States government officials announced changes in mid-March that dramatically increased access to telehealth in the nation. The changes included allowing providers to use everyday technologies to connect with patients, offering more telehealth treatment coverage to Medicare beneficiaries and making such options available at lower costs than traditional appointments.

The increased access and provider flexibility are temporary, intended to remain only for the duration of the country’s health emergency. However, some people believe the changes could bode well for telehealth in general, such as by giving adoption of the technology a sustained boost.

Analysts at Frost & Sullivan predict a 64.3% year-over-year growth increase for the telehealth sector this year. The researchers mentioned the need for social distancing as a central factor influencing the surge. However, they cautioned that the telemedicine industry contains an ecosystem where numerous parties affect adoption rates and healthcare compliance standards.

Medical practices can increase income through telehealth visits

Many people avoid face-to-face treatments now due to the risk of virus transmission. However, even before COVID-19 became a threat, people faced other obstacles that made in-person care more complicated, such as a lack of transportation or mental health struggles that made them nervous in public.

Jason Popp, a partner at Alston and Bird’s healthcare litigation group, pointed out how making telehealth more accessible introduces more revenue streams for medical facilities: “When the pandemic started, physicians in practices were seeing big changes because they couldn’t see patients anymore.”

Popp continued, “Now they’re quickly adapting to the change. Otherwise, they’ve got limited revenue because patients aren’t coming to clinics or certain facilities. It’s been a bit of a wake-up call to practitioners who were previously kind of opposed to telehealth. Now they’re seeing there are immense benefits. After the pandemic, many will continue to provide telehealth.”

A temporary telehealth waiver connected to the coronavirus pandemic expands access to people beyond rural areas. Popp viewed that regulatory change as the most significant and hopes Congress will eventually make it permanent. Other parties familiar with telehealth say the sector is scaling up so rapidly that reverting to pre-COVID-19 healthcare compliance standards would prove difficult.

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