By Troy Corley, executive vice president of service delivery, Proactive MD.
In an ideal world, individuals would be able to access health care services in a quick and convenient manner — regardless of where they live. However, entirely too many residents in rural areas face a variety of barriers to access, limiting their ability to obtain the health care they need.
For many patients living in rural areas, having to drive for more than an hour just to see the nearest primary care practitioner is entirely too common. Because of this and other barriers, patients are generally not equipped to be proactive and preventive with their health due to the significant investment required to receive basic care.
Making matters worse, rural patients often face traditionally higher rates of poverty and are less likely to have health insurance than their urban counterparts. These economic challenges, in combination with higher rates of underlying chronic disease, make rural patients more likely than city dwellers to face poor health outcomes and suffer complications from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease and stroke.
Today, about 60 million Americans, or nearly 20% of the U.S. population, live in Census-defined rural areas. And with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reporting only 39.8 primary care physicians are available per 100,000 people in rural populations, the gap in care between rural and urban Americans is only growing wider. The provider shortage — coupled with increased transportation challenges, social inequities, and the additional access barriers brought about by COVID-19 — makes physical access to care extremely difficult for many rural communities.
The Rise of Telehealth
While the current pandemic has forced the U.S. health care system to face numerous challenges, it has catalyzed the rapid adoption of telehealth services to safely deliver care at a distance.
As patients embrace this digital transformation, health care providers are beginning to look outside of their traditional base to reach new patients in unexpected locales. Employing telehealth services reduces access barriers for patients in rural areas, allowing them to receive basic care regardless of how far they live from a physician’s office.
Q&A with Matt Fairhurst, CEO and co-founder, Skedulo.
Skedulo is a champion of the deskless workforce, providing a comprehensive productivity platform that improves the lives of the mobile worker. Operating heavily in the healthcare sphere, Skedulo works with home healthcare agencies and organizations including Solace Pediatrics, Eastseals, and New Jersey Respiratory Associates (NJRA). Matt Fairhurst is the co-founder and CEO of Skedulo. Matt’s background is in user experience and user interface design, and, from this, he has a passion for building great products. Here he discusses telehealth, technology innovation and the future of healthcare.
What’s been the experience of the practice or the health system with the technology, and how has its real-world application changed the way they practice or the business of care?
Telehealth is a positive development in the healthcare industry, one that, 20 years ago, people never thought would be possible. It allows patients to “visit” the doctor without having to leave their home via video chats, and it also enables caregivers to visit patients in their homes and still be able to complete the job efficiently.
Pre-pandemic, telehealth was often seen as a backup option for healthcare providers, for example if the patient lived elsewhere and was unable to come in for a physical appointment. Then once the pandemic hit, telehealth became the temporary default and was practiced out of necessity in order to limit potential contamination. Now, providers are beginning to think about how they want to incorporate telehealth into their regular model of care. Practicing telehealth is less expensive and allows more patients to be seen. While it won’t replace in-person care, it certainly will stick around once the pandemic passes and be incorporated into how healthcare systems practice their business of care.
Why were doctors and people reluctant to adopt telehealth prior to the pandemic?
The healthcare industry has always been resistant to adopting technology and interoperability, and that includes telehealth services. Many providers held on to the belief that virtual services were inadequate compared to in-person services. The silver-lining of COVID’s effect on healthcare is that it’s propelling the industry forward and forcing an openness to digital transformation. And technology — thanks to biometric devices and software innovation — is finally catching up to make telehealth a seamless and truly comparable option to certain in-person services.
Q&A with Life Image president and CEO, Matthew Michela
Seventy-five percent of consumers are willing to share their health data with their preferred local healthcare institution, according to a recent survey. That is a significant increase from the approximately 53% surveyed pre-COVID-19 who were willing to share data to help a doctor provide better care.
The drastic shift to virtual care and a population focused on the dangers of COVID-19 spurred the acceleration and adoption of technology tools bringing healthcare to the Digital Age. And, as consumers become increasingly more active and engaged in managing risks to their health there is a notion that tools to access and manage their health data remain available in a post-COVID healthcare setting.
How can organizations adapt to the COVID-fueled consumer revolution and exceed patient expectations for healthcare?
Consumer-oriented healthcare technology remains significantly behind other types of services. Not because healthcare technology is inferior but because mature technology present everywhere in our lives isn’t applied to healthcare. The tools and patient portals available today fail to help consumers manage the logistics, payment, evaluation, and coordination of their care. Consider the way medical information is actually available to patients, and try not to be frustrated when you realize that getting rid of faxes and CDs in healthcare will be considered a major industry breakthrough.
Starting from this context, the digitization of healthcare, more specifically, putting healthcare data at patients’ fingertips through the app economy, is now understood by consumers as essential and recognition of its importance has been accelerated by COVID-19. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to fully realize that giving patients control of their medical data improves interoperability and moves clinical information more quickly to where it is useful.
The pandemic also presented to healthcare organizations a direct need to manage patient records longitudinally. With many more consumers surprised and frustrated to learn that something so seemingly simple as medical records is so difficult to access and share. Patients are waiting for their service providers in earnest for a practical and bonafide digital experience to materialize. COVID-19 has been a catalyst to drive adoption of more comprehensive portals to store and share complex medical data and successful organizations will address these needs.
Telehealth is a $2.6B industry and has grown more than 25% since 2015. The global COVID-19 pandemic has switched telehealth’s use and acceptance into overdrive, and nearly every healthcare discipline is utilizing some form of telehealth platforms as part of their clinical offerings. As the pandemic brought life to a stand-still, industries and employees were placed into one of two categories: those who provided essential services like grocery store staff, doctors, and emergency medical personnel and those who were deemed non-essential.
Non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down all operations while government officials figured out the next best steps for the safety of its citizens. Initially, physical therapy and other non-clinical medical professions were deemed non-essential. This changed when the Department of Homeland Security, along with state governments and healthcare officials, deemed physical therapy an essential healthcare service that should continue to treat its patients.
This acknowledgment placed the physical therapy sector in an interesting predicament. On one hand, many municipalities had issued stay-at-home orders. Even with the re-categorization of physical therapy as an essential healthcare service, many patients simply feared leaving their homes and chose to postpone much-needed physical therapy appointments until the virus was contained. This dilemma forced physical therapy practitioners to explore the telehealth platform as a way to continue treating patients and to create a much-needed revenue stream for the health of the practice.
COVID-19 Triggers Regulatory Changes
The telehealth industry was already changing dramatically due to COVID-19. To help telehealth services become more widely available, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma relaxed HIPAA restrictions that had previously limited telemedicine as a patient care option. The deregulations included the ability of physicians to treat patients across state lines without becoming licensed in that particular state and ushered in the development of IT infrastructures that did not meet compliance or regulatory parameters established by HIPPA laws. Lastly, a rapid introduction and approval of dozens of new billing codes were issued to itemize and enable medical professionals to bill Medicare for telehealth services.
In the age of COVID-19, the role of technology in supporting senior care has perhaps never been more important or apparent. Telemedicine is increasingly proving its power to ensure continuity and quality of care from the safety and security of the patients’ home.
But today’s technology is about far more than just protecting seniors and the vulnerable from potential exposure to the virus. Now, more than ever, technologies are being developed to optimize patient care and to support seniors who wish to age in place, living out their golden years independently at home.
As promising as these technologies may be, however, it’s not all roses and champagne. The reality is technology is developing so quickly that it can be hard to keep up, particularly from a moral and ethical perspective. We’re only just beginning to understand the implications of this tech invasion. It might prove to be a tremendous help but also a tremendous harm for some seniors.
Before we jump too quickly on the technology bandwagon when it comes to senior care, there are some ethical considerations we need to keep in mind.
Why It Matters
The simple fact is that today’s technologies are making it easier than ever for seniors to remain in their own homes without putting their health and safety at risk. Thanks to an array of new smart technologies, caregivers can remotely monitor their loved ones from secure portals that can be accessed on most any mobile device.
The devices allow caregivers to monitor the physical activity in the home through motion detectors, including the ability to identify potentially significant changes in activity patterns. Wearables can even remotely track users’ vital data, such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose, or sleep quality. Best of all, caregivers are able to receive immediate alerts when monitors detect an emergency, such as a fall or a medical issue.
Not only that, but caregivers can also use smart systems to emulate the kind of continuous care seniors would traditionally receive at an assisted living facility. They can monitor and remotely control the home’s temperatures, for example.
And, for seniors who are experiencing cognitive decline, caregivers can set up medication reminders — with the medication’s name and proper dosage — on their loved one’s smartphone, tablet, or PC. Since memory-related medication non-compliance is a particularly common, and particularly dangerous, health challenge for seniors, this may well be the key to your loved one’s health and longevity.
As the COVID-19 infection unleashes devastation with the healthcare system, telehealth is venturing up into the spotlight and helping healthcare providers and doctors react better to the necessities of Americans who have gotten the infection and Americans who need to meet up with their providers on the status of their wellbeing.
Telehealth is making a positive commitment to medicinal services during the pandemic and is being used in a variety of ways. Be that as it may, telehealth innovations do have certain restrictions with regards to treating patients during a pandemic. However, medical clinics are figuring out how to adjust to telehealth during a pandemic.
While all the countries around the world and taking precautions to get rid of COVID, the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services reports 51,200 cases of the virus. It is advised not to travel, however, if it is an emergency or you intend to follow through with vacation plans, research the area you are going to so you know what to expect upon arrival.
Despite the world facing the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and even conflict resulting in violence, the power of technology means there’s always something to feel positive about.
What is news-worthy when it comes to IT and technology for the healthcare industry? Here are our top four reasons for staying hopeful:
More Virtual Treatments Mean More Healthy People
The beauty of having an IT infrastructure stretching across any country is that more people get access to medical services and consultations. Even before COVID-19 happened, doctors were giving advice and medical feedback to individuals in remote areas or those unable to travel via video calls.
During the pandemic, these telehealth resources were used in greater numbers in order to minimize interaction between patients in waiting rooms and hospitals. Even though the virus took many of us by surprise, certain aspects of our society were already geared for dealing with the challenge.
The telehealth market is expected to reach $10 billion this year, which represents a 80% jump in growth. Much of this has been driven by the coronavirus and, prior to the pandemic, as a response to skyrocketing healthcare costs.
Current safety concerns surrounding at-risk patients visiting hospitals and other healthcare facilities have increased the urgency for solutions that provide critical medical support while mitigating risk.
Lawmakers have responded by relaxing antiquated rules and policies limiting telemedicine access that would otherwise have required decades of debate and lobbying efforts to change. This conversation has also created renewed interest in Telehealth as one answer to the growing healthcare crisis in this country.
That all represents significant progress, however there is still one big, unanswered question: How to address billing and insurance coverage issues.
Back in April, politicians, media and influencers were widely cited as saying patients were covered for Telehealth services. However, many telehealth patients were still getting billed. This was largely because of the fact that payer groups including the government, insurance companies and private enterprise “didn’t get the memo” or were slow to change their policies. In essence, without the participation of these payer groups, the promise of Telehealth was empty.
As a result, millions have been denied access to cost-effective solutions that also ensure patients are safe and secure from Coronavirus and other issues. This is unacceptable. If we are truly committed to delivering quality medical care online, then the healthcare community, our legislators and patients must demand a standard telehealth reimbursement and billing system for all — no matter who you are or what insurance you have.
By Chad Reid, vice president of marketing and communications, JotForm.
When it comes to telehealth, COVID-19 has been something of a game-changer. The popularity of telehealth has been growing steadily, but patients generally viewed it as a complementary service to their regular in-person care. Until recently, that is.
As the pandemic continues to rage across the nation, telehealth has become a necessity. According to early data, telemedicine firms have seen as much as a 50% increase in the volume of visits during the pandemic. It might seem tempting to view that statistic as a temporary spike, but it reflects a trend that was already gaining momentum.
This increase in demand has put a strain on many institutions whose telemedicine solutions were either nonexistent before the pandemic or not designed for such heavy use. It has also thrown the flaws in existing systems into plain view, making it clear that there’s still plenty of room for improvement.
Wherever you might have been on your telemedicine journey pre-pandemic, your position has probably changed. Regardless of past experiences, it’s time for the healthcare industry to figure out how to make telehealth workmoving forward.
Navigating Telehealth Benefits and Challenges
Telehealth has the potential to revolutionize access to healthcare. In theory, it lets people in rural areas reach specialists anywhere in the country and expands affordable care options to low-income patients. Unfortunately, that potential hasn’t always become a reality. Historically, these groups have been the least likely to take advantage of all that telemedicine has to offer.
That may be changing, though. The pandemic has not only smashed through many of the existing barriers to telehealth adoption — making it more widely available and used — but it has also pushed insurance companies to increase acceptance of these visits.
Done right, telehealth services can increase access and improve quality of care through remote monitoring and more frequent check-ins. Telehealth can also save everyone money — particularly the patients with chronic conditions who account for 90% of annual healthcare costs. To achieve these benefits, though, telemedicine has to be implemented in a purposeful, cohesive way that protects patient privacy and encourages care continuity.
The use of Telehealth services has seen remarkable growth during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent research found that 67% of Americans have used telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is up from 46% prior to COVID-19. One might wonder if this growth is temporary or poised for more long-term growth post-pandemic.
To learn more about the growing trend of telehealth use, my agency worked with a data management firm to survey the American public about their experiences using telehealth during COVID-19 and whether or not they plan to continue to use these virtual medical services in the future.
Telehealth and Covid-19
One immediate observation that we learned as a result of this analysis is that 71% of Americans are currently fearful to visit their doctor’s office due to COVID-19. Because of these fears, many people have shifted towards using telehealth services during the pandemic. While 63% of respondents were originally apprehensive about their first telehealth visit, 72% reported enjoying their first telehealth experience.
What patients like most about telehealth
Why do patients prefer seeing a doctor virtually as opposed to in-person? Convivence safety and flexibility with appointments were the top responses. Many patients are shifting to telehealth as a means to avoid potential virus exposure.
Shorter wait-times are also driving people to telehealth appointments during the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients reported spending less time both between scheduling the appointment and the visit as well as time spent waiting in a virtual waiting room to be seen.
Access to care is another positive trend from increased telehealth use during COVID-19. Eighty percent (80%) of surveyed respondents believe telehealth has improved their ability to receive access to care during the pandemic. Seventy percent (70%) feel that telehealth provides adequate care and 65% believe telehealth provides accurate diagnosis to symptoms.
Telehealth visits also have the potential to replace some medical visits depending on the severity of the ailment. Sixty-six percent of our surveyed respondents feel telehealth will ultimately end up replacing in-person doctor visits that don’t require hands-on exams; 69% said they are less likely to use an ER or urgent care for non-life-threatening visits in the future if telehealth becomes more available.