The shortage of specialist physicians in the United States continues to receive a great deal of attention as an area of concern. However, a lesser-known compounding factor is the increase in referral rates. In a 2012 study, the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys found that between 1999 and 2009, the probability of receiving a specialist referral during an ambulatory patient visit increased from 4.8% to 9.3%, a 92% increase, nearly double. While this study is now several years old, we can surmise that this trend has continued due to the persistence of several factors contributing to the overall disparity between specialist referrals and the number of available specialist physicians.
The clear impact of these compounded problems is substantially increased wait times among patients with a physician referral for specialist appointment. In 15 major metro areas, a recent Merritt Hawkins study covering the medical specialties of cardiology, dermatology, orthopedic surgery, and obstetrics and gynecology, found appointment wait times increased 25% from 2014 to 2017. Wait times averaged 24.1 days across the study, with some extreme cases waiting 165 days for an appointment.
Long wait times impact patient outcomes and healthcare operations
On top of the anguish and emotional impact of waiting for care, diseases and illnesses can progress as patients sit in appointment queues for weeks or even months on end. As NEJM describes, “long waits before appointments, particularly specialist appointments, often contribute to the development of avoidable complications,” which cause more difficult health cases both for the patient and for the physicians caring for them.
There are notable effects on healthcare operations that add to the case for reducing patient wait times as a crucial avenue for improving healthcare overall. For example, long wait times for appointments increase the prevalence of no-shows, indicating that patients are either frustrated enough to not follow through on scheduled appointments or forget appointments altogether because of the long interim period. Sometimes appointments can even be moved around by specialist physicians at the last minute, leaving patients in limbo for even longer.
Additionally, long wait times frequently lead to patients receiving inefficient care. Firstly, extended waits often deter patients from seeking initial care. This shifts the healthcare industry away from proactive to reactive care, which is less effective and more costly for all parties involved. Secondly, the inability to access the care they need and when they need it, leads to patients seeking care within inappropriate settings. These patients are more likely to be admitted to EDs, as the 30-day rate of ED and inpatient usage was 8.7 times higher for patients awaiting a specialist appointment. A study by Truven Health Analytics noted that 71% emergency room visits are unnecessary and avoidable. Each of these issues alone make strong cases for reducing patient wait times; these issues combined suggest reducing patient wait times is a crucial goal that must be prioritized when it comes to streamlining healthcare delivery and improving quality of care.
In light of these concerning figures and effects, healthcare organization operations are turning their focus toward reducing wait times and improving patient outcomes. This fits well as part of an overall strategy to increase quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery. Below, we will focus on how telehealth platforms, specifically eConsults, combat multiple factors driving specialist appointment wait times, streamlining the physician referral process and thereby reducing patient wait times for happier and healthier patients.
Positive impacts of reducing patient wait times by accessing specialty care from within primary care
Increasingly, healthcare providers are entering into value-based payment arrangements. Telehealth solutions, and specifically eConsults, can support the drive toward more efficient care by increasing access to specialists while better optimizing time and place of care.
eConsults are is an electronic form of peer-to-peer collaboration, providing PCPs with a platform to consult with specialists on specific patient cases. eConsult interaction occurs using a secure, HIPAA-compliant messaging platform, where specialist guidance is received within 24 hours, drastically reducing the interim time between referral and treatment. eConsults can replace more than 70% of routine referrals with immediate, specialist-guided treatment from the PCP, without the wait and additional cost. Keeping lower acuity patients out of the specialist referral queue means faster access to face-to-face visits for the higher acuity patients, expediting care and improving outcomes for all.
One provider (and frequent user of AristaMD eConsults) at a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center describes the challenges of securing specialty care for the patients at her clinic: “Especially with MediCal patients, it usually takes at least four or five months for a patient to complete a referral. Very often, patients end up waiting three to five months, then receive notification their appointment has changed, the specialist has moved, or even that the specialist is no longer taking that patient’s insurance. Some of these patients are then in limbo for more than six to nine months. This is where the benefit of AristaMD’s eConsult platform comes in. AristaMD specialists provide guidance on patient care plans, for example diagnostic or medication recommendations, within 24 hours.”
Several studies have already noted demonstrable decreases in wait times once eConsults were introduced in large health systems. The San Francisco Department of Public Health saw dramatic improvements following the introduction of their eConsult program. The median wait time for a non-urgent appointment with a rheumatology specialist was drastically reduced from 126 days to 29 days. Additionally, patients visiting specialists needed fewer follow-up appointments as a result of a more extensive pre-visit workup made possible by this telehealth platform. Other similar successes have been observed in Los Angeles and the NYC Health + Hospitals System, with the latter finding that median wait times for high-urgency specialist visits decreased from 30 days to 16 days as a result of eConsult implementation.
eConsults are ideal for addressing the growing problem of lengthy patient wait times. They empower PCPs to deliver specialist-guided care to lower acuity patients in a timely manner while freeing up the capacity for in-person specialist visits for the more complex, higher acuity patients who need them most.
Over the past few years, there have been encouraging improvements in the realm of mental health care in the United States. Initiatives to improve mental health outcomes, such as the Affordable Care Act (2010), have been primarily aimed at requiring increased insurance coverage to encompass mental health services at levels comparable with physical medical care.
Despite these improvements, such policies do not address issues caused by access challenges within the referral system, and many of the one in five adults suffering from mental illness in the United States still are not accessing the mental health care they require and need. In particular, there exists a shortage of mental health providers across the country, and these health professionals are likely to be out-of-network for many patients. Further barriers preventing patients from obtaining care include travel, missed work time associated with appointments, and the social stigma of seeking mental health care.
Faced with these challenges, patients with mental health issues are resorting to emergency departments in search of mental health services. Hospital emergency departments lack access to psychiatric services and mental health resources. Further, as patients are improperly treated in urgent care settings, this can lead to reduced access to care for those with acute medical issues, which then results in poorer overall outcomes at the highest cost of care.
To address these multi-faceted challenges, value-based care models have placed particular importance on the role of primary care, as these organizations are uniquely positioned to promote innovation and efficiency through proactive and coordinated care. When it comes to mental health services, primary care providers (PCPs) serve at the front line of care and are positioned to be an excellent means of providing access to mental health care to a patient population in need. However, many PCPs lack adequate resources to treat these often complex and specialized issues.
Telehealth technologies, such as telepsychiatry and eConsults, can support primary care practices by creating networks to provide timely, documented, and standardized access to mental health professionals. This equips PCPs to more effectively manage patients with mental health concerns, reducing wait times and improving mental health outcomes.
AristaMD’s eConsult platform connects PCPs with adult and pediatric psychiatry, addiction medicine, and behavioral health specialists to provide care planning support and treatment recommendations. Ninety-one percent of AristaMD’s mental and behavioral health eConsults have been shown to include medication regimen guidance including initiation of treatments, diagnostic recommendations, and medication dosage adjustment, all of which can be managed within the primary care setting with the support of specialty insight.
As the U.S. population ages and the percentage of citizens over 65 continues to increase, healthcare consumers are taking advantage of a whole new generation of medical technology. Sociologists and anthropologists have been writing about that fact that millions of oldsters are delaying retirement until well past their seventies. Indeed, it’s not unusual for senior citizens to embark on new careers, sell insurance policies to life settlement companies for cash and basically reposition themselves for a completely new way of living.
The new year will usher in several new medical technologies that will help everyone live longer, healthier, happier lives. Forty might be the new 30, and 50 the new 40, but once 2020 rolls around the catchphrase might become, “70 is the new 50.” Here’s a peek at what senior citizens, and everyone else, will be dealing with next year and beyond:
So-called “wearable technology devices” have been around for a while. They include items like blood-pressure cuffs, blood-sugar monitors and even brain-wave devices. They all have one major concept in common: real-time data is relayed back to medical professionals who can see important changes in the patient’s vital signs and other essential anatomical parameters.
In 2018 and 2019, the use of wearables exploded when cost for many devices came way down. Now, as 2020 approaches, the majority of healthcare consumers are becoming aware of what wearables are and what they can do. For heart patients, a wearable monitor can mean the early detection of trouble. Anyone who has suffered a stroke is a prime candidate for wearable technology. In practical terms, wearables are almost like having a doctor by your side every minute of the day but without the cost.
Voice-activated everything is one of the fastest-growing trends in several fields, medicine included. Heart monitors no longer need to be reset by hand but can simply be commanded to “reset at base level and reset start date.” But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for seniors, millions of whom reside in care facilities. The beauty of voice activated devices means that oldsters need not know how to interface with keyboards and tablet screens. A simple word or phrase is all that’s needed to turn on lights, open secure doors and inform nurses that everything is okay.
What was once a futuristic dream in 1960s television shows is now full-blown reality. You no longer need to travel to the clinic in order to “see” a doctor. Especially in rural areas, where long-distance drives are a burden for ailing and elderly patients, telemedicine has caught on. A standard Internet connection and a decent camera are all that’s needed for a virtual visit to the doctor. At fist only popular with psychiatrists and psychologists, tele-visits are now commonplace for routine physical checkups. Experts say that medical teleconferencing and tele-checkups will become the norm rather than the exception in 2020, as more health organizations look for ways to eliminate costly in-person patient interactions. The estimated cost of a telemedicine checkup is about one-third the cost of an in-person visit.
Born from a federal grant awarded to the University of Utah in the 1970s, “locum tenens” provided staffing services to health clinics and facilities in rural, under-served geographies in the Western United States. The notion of “freelance physicians” grew as the program proved successful for decades to follow.
Today, more than 50,000 physicians freelance, many in a downshift towards retirement to create more work-life balance, reduce practice management stress, and/or contribute to more flexible medical care nationwide. The advancement of telehealth technologies has also accelerated the freelance physician trend.
This trend, coupled with a currently disjointed and antiquated system for freelance healthcare staffing, fueled the creation of Hyr Medical, poised to disrupt the current status quo.
By transforming the way physicians and hospitals connect through a direct and transparent online platform, Hyr Medical enables reduced hiring cycle time for hospitals and increased pay for physicians.
Ahead of significant growth trends, Hyr Medical announces key additions to the leadership team including:
Dr. Sunil Pandya, MD, MBA, MHI, CPHIMS, chief strategy officer:
Sunil has over 15 years of clinical experience in nearly every aspect of hospital medicine. He has held leadership roles at the highest levels including Chief Medical Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and National Medical Director. Additionally, Sunil has successfully created and sold five companies to various national physician management corporations.
Spencer Liebmann, chief operating officer:
Spencer has over 25 years of executive leadership experience in the healthcare industry. He has held executive leadership roles as both chief operating officer and president of hospital medicine. Spencer is an experienced entrepreneur who has built and sold four companies, as well as successfully led and managed large sales and customer service teams.
According to Manoj Jhaveri, co-founder and CEO of Hyr Medical, “Sunil and Spencer are truly special individuals. Their ability to define a vision, build and lead great teams, and execute is second to none. I feel so fortunate that they have decided to join Hyr as full-time executives to complete our c-suite.”
According to Jhaveri, Hyr Medical is blazing a new trail in healthcare staffing and technology as their dual-sided marketplace continues to expand. In the last 90 days alone, Hyr has received signed agreements from over a dozen major healthcare systems and medical groups. By the end of 2019, Hyr also expects to have over one-thousand physicians signed-up on its platform.
Artificial intelligence makes suggestions about what we should buy at the grocery store. If we need transportation to get to the grocery store, we can use ride-sharing applications. Swiping right on a dating app has become a new way to look for romance. Banking with your phone, without the need to physically visit a branch office, is common practice.
If, in the past, the public did not trust technology enough, nowadays, the convenience aspects of technology outweigh the risks.
But healthcare has always been a conservative industry when it comes to technology. For the most part, this is a good thing. I’m sure you wouldn’t have liked to be treated with a fairly new drug or piece of equipment, or to be diagnosed by a robot-doctor.
On the other hand, technology has come a long way and is now more reliable, stable and trustworthy than ever. It has already penetrated the health industry, which means you are going to see more and more of it. The combination of rising costs, Amazon’s promise to go into healthcare, and the government pressure for affordable care are pushing healthcare providers to embrace technology and adapt to all the risks and benefits it brings.
Technology at its core is being used to reduce overhead cost, provide better data analysis (to facilitate better decision-making), automate human tasks, and provide comfort and convenience in our day-to-day lives. When it comes to the health industry, what we all would like to see is (in no particular order):
Increased Access to Care – Access to care has been, and still is, a major concern throughout North America. When speaking of access to care, we oftentimes think of financial barriers to care. However, there are many other barriers that are as prevalent: Geography (distance and mobility to a healthcare provider), anxiety and even opening hours of a healthcare provider can be serious barriers for access to care.
Telehealth is quickly becoming a technological solution to resolve the above mentioned challenges and increase the ability for the general public to receive healthcare services in a way that is convenient for them. When we look at telehealth from the perspective of remote communities, it is the difference between seeing a healthcare provider and not seeing one at all.
Better Diagnostic – We look up to doctors and expect them to be able to identify our illnesses and prescribe the treatment that would enable us to overcome them. In reality, illnesses are becoming more complex and require interdisciplinary collaboration to diagnose with better accuracy and prescribe an effective treatment. There is no way of achieving this without the use of technology.
A centralized database that will store all health information from all practitioners is the only way to provide doctors the information they need, when they need it. Having information from all healthcare providers you have visited provides a better picture of habits, complaints and parallel treatments already prescribed (without the need for the patient to remember and be able to verbalize correctly). This is crucial to be able to treat you more effectively.
Technology has evolved, and it has positively affected all areas of our lives. When it comes to technological advances and innovations in medical technology, it can be said that life has been made easier for us.
With new medical technology, we are assured of longer life span with credits to various medical innovations in medical technology. It would interest you to know that technological advances are basically medical innovations in medical practices which are aimed at giving life a better meaning.
Hence, the basic aim of these evolving technologies in the field of medicine is basically an increase in the lifespan and ensuring our overall state of health is improved.
Below are the most recent technological advances used in medicine:
CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, and it is a new medical technology, which is at the highest level of advancement when it comes to gene-editing technology. CRISPR functions by tapping into the natural mechanisms that are found in the immune systems of bacterial cells, and it lacerates the DNA strands that have been infected.
The cutting ability of the CRISPR has the capacity to modify the conventional way of disease treatment. When some genes are modified, some diseases such as HIV and cancer could possibly be totally defeated in few years. Although, when you read most medical essays with an essay plagiarism checker, an essay check or an essay corrector, you will discover that there are still further inquiries into the full capacities of the CRISPR and the unknown benefits to the human race.
This is another new medical technology which fits into this technologically guided world. It basically means a form of promptly evolving technology which enables patients to access medical care via their medical devices, rather than go to the hospital for appointments with their doctor.
Currently, there are some highly-functional personalized applications that are developed for the purpose of allowing patients to interact virtually with medical professionals and get prompt medical advice and diagnosis.
Telehealth makes full provision for all patients to have various access means to healthcare the moment it is needed. It also comes in handy for those who have chronic health problems because it makes health care available at a regular, convenient and affordable means.
3. Virtual reality
Virtual reality has been in existence for quite a while, and there are medical advances that are being integrated into exploring the full capacities of this modern technology. With virtual reality, medical students have been afforded the opportunity of accessing close to real-life experience using this technology.
There are top modernized tools which aid them in gaining the experience needed by memorizing and practicing procedures as well as and producing a visual knowledge of the entire connection of the human anatomy.
If you check legit medical essays with an essay corrector or an essay checker, you will discover that virtual reality devices are a profound help for patients, providing diagnosis help, treatment schedule and making procedures available for them. They are also essential in patients’ rehabilitation recuperation.
Medical technology is advancing, and it becomes more personalized to patients individually. One of the benefits which precision medicine comes with is, it enables physicians to choose therapies and medicines for disease treatment, which includes cancer hinged on the genetic make-up of the patient.
This form of personalized medicine is way more effective than other forms of treatment, as it effectively treats tumors using the specific proteins and genes of the patient as the basis. This then causes gene mutations and makes it more effortlessly annihilated by cancer medicine.
In addition, precision medicine can also be used for rheumatoid arthritis treatment. It employs a mechanism of combating the vulnerable genes of the disease, in a bid to weaken it and lessen the symptoms and damage to the joint.
Imagine your favorite football team is in a real neck-to-neck with another team, and the game could tip in anyone’s favor. It is the last minute, and in an insane turn of events, the quarterback throws the ball in the air, hoping the player in the end zone could make a touchdown. Instead, the reckless throw results in confusion, the guy in the end zone gets tackled, and the game ends in disappointment.
Now, let’s step out of football and look at these statistics that show a little picture of referrals in healthcare:
Only about 50% of referrals result in a completed appointment
Less than 25% of referrals are completed as intended by the referring provider
In case one, the player didn’t score a touchdown, and in the second case, the patient didn’t end up with the right provider and the treatment. The reason being the process— a reckless throw and an inefficient referral procedure.
Most healthcare organizations lose about 30% to 60% of patients on account of inefficient referrals. Value-based care is expected to become the leading payment model by the year 2020, and healthcare organizations cannot afford losing more than half of their revenues due to reduced referral leakages.
How do you know that your referral management needs healing?
Imagine a situation where a patient, in his early 60s, suddenly suffers from severe abdominal pain. He goes to his doctor, and the doctor directs him to a specialist she knew out of her professional knowledge.
Now the situation can unfold in many ways, where the patient might end up getting treated or the exact opposite of it. In all the scenarios, the part where things might go wrong is the process of referring the patient. The problems that these stakeholders might face include:
The inability to identify in-network providers
Lack of proper patient information
Limited access to information flow among providers
Reliance on age-old techniques of fax-based referrals
… and many more.
Now the question is: ‘What is the solution?’
It all boils down to just one thing— having the right data. Imagine you visit your doctor. The moment you tell him your problem, he looks into his screen to look for the right specialist. In just one click, he gets all the correct specialists in a listicle format. And all he has to do for the rest of the story is just click on the ‘Refer’ button.
Seems undoable? Actually, all we need is a data-driven strategy.
Don’t just plan your data but also your approach
It is never about just knowing the patients but understanding them, their health, their socio-economic condition, and their care journeys. All of this is not possible if we do not have access to the right data. Whether it be a lab test or spiking blood pressure— nothing should be left undetected.
Easier it is for providers to understand, efficient will be the referral
You cannot expect the rest of the process to be perfect if the beginning is imperfect. If the provider is stuck finding the information, not only will this delay the referral but also increase the chances of errors. What they need is a single screen view of specialists in a list that includes every detail such as geography, specialist ranking, availability, and fees, among others.
Connecting communities and care teams to deliver the best care
It is crucial that care teams and communities remain aware of the events happening in the patients’ care journeys. They need a streamlined tracking of patient referrals at the clinical or patient level. It will reduce the turnaround time for escalations.
The patient lost in the process is the revenue lost
The right referral strategy includes two significant aspects:
Increasing the visibility into the process to the patient
Using advanced analytics tools to develop a lens into the referral process
What they need is a simple reminder that enlists all the details regarding the visit and gives timely updates to them regarding the specialist and the appointment date. Organizations can increase patients’ access to telehealth services by allowing plans to propose the use of telehealth services instead of promoting in-person visits.
Over the last few years, hospitals and healthcare practices throughout the country have started adopting new technology that helps them provide better care to their patients and make life easier for their employees.
For example, 64 percent of physicians now send electronic messages to their patients via text or email. Meanwhile, 63 percent allow their patients to view their medical records online.
Are you looking for new ways to bring your practice into the 21st Century? Listed below are seven of the top healthcare technology trends you ought to know about and consider implementing in your practice.
Electronic Medical Records
Electronic medical records (or EMR for short) are one of the most popular tech trends in the healthcare world.
Lots of practices have started using EMR to simplify the process of searching for patient records. EMR has also made it easier for patients to access their medical records online.
Even though plenty of practices are making use of EMR, there are still a lot of them that haven’t made the switch yet. The sooner you start making your files available in a digital format, the sooner you’ll start reaping all the benefits of EMR.
For example, EMR provides immediate access to patient records. It also helps physicians make better decisions about their patient’s care.
They can spot patterns more easily when everything is in front of them. This, in turn, allows them to choose the best treatment approach and avoid missing something important.
Blockchain has started to make its way into the healthcare world, and it’s not showing any signs of leaving.
Blockchain technology allows healthcare practices (and other businesses, for that matter) to store digital information without taking up a ton of space. It also allows them to store their information in a more secure way since it cannot be copied.
In the digital age, patient security and privacy protection are of the utmost importance to many healthcare professionals.
Blockchain systems allow practice owners and managers to ensure they’re keeping patient records and information safe. It also helps them to avoid expensive and harmful (on many levels) data breaches.
In 2019, many people are looking for new ways to get things done without leaving their homes. They have groceries delivered to their door, for example, and they communicate with friends and family via video chat.
Lots of healthcare practices are jumping in on this trend and are making it easier for patients to have their medical needs met from the comfort of their own homes as well.
Telemedicine allows patients to talk to doctors, receive medical advice, and even have prescriptions filled, without having to make a special trip to the doctor’s office.
Physicians are also using these same technologies to communicate with each other in more effective ways and come up with better, more comprehensive solutions for their patients.
Artificial intelligence is for way more than gaming. It’s also one of the biggest healthcare trends of 2019.
Physicians and researchers have started or have plans to start using artificial intelligence in a variety of ways.
As artificial intelligence technology becomes more refined, it will be easier for healthcare professionals to monitor their patients and provide better diagnosis and treatment.
It will also likely enhance the telemedicine world as well, as it will make it easier for physicians to see their patients without having to be in the same physical location as them.
Wearable health monitoring devices are not new. However, they’ve become more popular than ever, and they’re also becoming more advanced.
As these devices become more accurate and able to provide more details about the wearer’s health, it’s likely that many physicians will start relying on them to gather information about their patient’s health and daily habits.
More than 100 C-Suite and director level executives voted and then ranked the top 10 critical challenges, issues and opportunities they expect to face in the coming year, during this week’s HCEG Annual Forum. The HealthCare Executive Group (HCEG), a 31-year old networking and leadership organization, facilitated interactive discussions around such issues in their 2.5 day marquee event in Boston.
Executives from payer, provider and technology partner organizations were presented with a list of over 25 topics. Initially compiled from webinars, roundtables and the 2019 Industry Pulse Survey, the list was augmented by in-depth discussions during the Forum, where industry experts explored and expounded on a broad range of current priorities within their organizations. The HCEG Annual Forum concluded with HCEG Board Members announcing the results of the year-long process that determined the 2020 HCEG Top 10.
2020 HCEG Top 10 Challenges, Issues and Opportunities
Costs & Transparency — Implementing strategies and tactics to address growth of medical and pharmaceutical costs and impacts to access and quality of care.
Consumer Experience — Understanding, addressing and assuring that all consumer interactions and outcomes are easy, convenient, timely, streamlined, and cohesive so that health fits naturally into the “life flow” of every individual’s, family’s and community’s daily activities.
Delivery System Transformation — Operationalizing and scaling coordination and delivery system transformation of medical and non-medical services via partnerships and collaborations between healthcare and community-based organizations to overcome barriers including social determinants of health to effect better outcomes.
Data & Analytics — Leveraging advanced analytics and new sources of disparate, non-standard, unstructured, highly variable data (history, labs, Rx, sensors, mHealth, IoT, Socioeconomic, geographic, genomic, demographic, lifestyle behaviors) to improve health outcomes, reduce administrative burdens and support transition from volume to value and facilitate individual/provider/payer effectiveness.
Interoperability/Consumer Data Access — Integrating and improving the exchange of member, payer, patient, provider data and workflows to bring value of aggregated data and systems (EHR’s, HIE’s, financial, admin and clinical data, etc) on a near real-time and cost-effective basis to all stakeholders equitably.
Holistic Individual Health — Identifying, addressing and improving the member/patient’s overall medical, lifestyle/behavioral, socioeconomic, cultural, financial, educational, geographic and environmental well-being for a frictionless and connected healthcare experience.
Next Generation Payment Models — Developing and integrating technical and operational infrastructure and programs for a more collaborative and equitable approach to manage costs, sharing risk and enhanced quality outcomes in the transition from volume to value. (bundled payment, episodes of care, shared savings, risk-sharing, etc).
Accessible Points of Care — Telehealth, mHealth, wearables, digital devices, retail clinics, home-based care, micro-hospitals; and acceptance of these and other initiatives moving care closer to home and office.
Healthcare Policy — Dealing with repeal/replace/modification of current healthcare policy, regulations, political uncertainty/antagonism and lack of a disciplined regulatory process. Medicare-for-All, single payer, Medicare/Medicaid buy-in, block grants, surprise billing, provider directories, association health plans, and short-term policies, FHIR standards, and other mandates.
Privacy/Security — Staying ahead of cybersecurity threats on the privacy of consumer and other healthcare information to enhance consumer trust in sharing data. Staying current with changing landscape of federal and state privacy laws.
As technology continues to improve, using virtual connections in place of face-to-face meetings has surged in popularity. The healthcare industry is no different – the telehealth industry is predicted to be worth more than $130 billion by 2025. While telehealth offers many benefits to patients, particularly those who are unable to leave their homes, the technology raises several serious security concerns.
These problems primarily stem from the lack of security controls when it comes to the collection and sharing of data. During a conversation between a patient and doctor, for example, sensitive, personal patient data is often shared. When the connection between patient and doctor is virtual, it is possible that an unsecured connection could be interrupted, and patient data leaked. Home telehealth devices and sensors may also collect data that a patient would prefer to keep private, including times that the home is unoccupied. If devices are storing and transmitting this data, it is possible that it could be accessed by third parties.
These concerns have left a lingering question: how can patients still reap the benefits of telehealth while ensuring their connections and data remain secure? The answer may lie in another technology that healthcare providers have only started to adopt – blockchain.
Enabling Secure Data
Blockchain at its most basic level simply enables secure, immutable and anonymous transactions, allowing cross-network communications to take place through mutually agreed upon interactions between parties. For healthcare providers, this opens up an efficient means of transferring data and communicating between different organizations that handle patient data. Medical records can also be stored using blockchain, allowing providers to create a more complete patient history by keeping larger amounts of data and information securely encrypted in fragmented systems.
The ability to securely share data and control who has access to it will surely help to increase consumer confidence when it comes to telehealth. Blockchain requires that data is approved by both the patient and doctor before it is entered into a computer. The data must also be verified against a previous ledger, so no single party ever has total control. This ensures multiple checks are in place and reduces the chance that an unauthorized party could access sensitive patient data, which is one of the main concerns when it comes to using telehealth.
Regulating Sensitive Communications
While it offers many solutions, federal organizations have not officially decided how regulations would apply to blockchain, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). HIPAA outlines rules for ensuring the privacy and security of patient data, as well as the secure transfer of data, but it does not apply to patients; ensuring blockchain users remain compliant will be the responsibility of healthcare providers.
HIPPA guidelines for telehealth require that healthcare organizations communicate electronically protected health information (ePHI) through regulated channels to ensure security. This means that tools like Skype or unencrypted email cannot be used to communicate ePHI, limiting what could be used for cost-effective telehealth.