Telehealth has been a hot topic during COVID-19, but the technology powering virtual care consultations has been around for more than half a decade. A survey from 2014 found that 90% of healthcare organizations had already begun to implement telemedicine programs six years before the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But telehealth struggled to become a primary method of care delivery due to the negative perception of it within the health care industry. Telehealth was viewed as a claims deflection model that only treated low acuity patients, and this perception created a negative stigma for medical professionals regarding billing for telehealth solutions.
The same study found that 41% of health care provider respondents were not reimbursed for telemedicine services, and 21% reported receiving lower rates from management companies for virtual care. Health care professionals felt they were doing the same amount of work for little to no compensation, and because telehealth was typically reserved for low acuity patients, they had an exceedingly high no-show rate.
COVID-19 and the Explosion of Telehealth
The need for socially-distanced health care launched telehealth to the forefront in 2020. The pandemic forced the industry to quickly adapt telehealth for a broader spectrum of patient care, and claims models have since enabled clinics to bill virtual appointments like in-person visits.
This adjusted approach to telehealth also opened the door to potentially life-saving benefits, such as reserving in-person care for the highest acuity patients, increasing the scope of provider networks outside of a patient’s immediate location and allowing patients to receive quality care in the comfort of their homes.
According to research published by Advisory Board, doctors spend 37% of their day on administrative tasks, which shifts their attention away from patients and onto their technologies.
Because of this, it’s critical for telehealth solutions to be mindful of the pre-existing administrative burden on doctors and health care staff. Telehealth should simply be another vehicle for providing care—not an unnecessary hindrance.
With the use of telehealth, patient data management becomes particularly important. Clinicians can provide telehealth services to anyone in any state they’re licensed to practice in, but this can turn out to be a disservice if data isn’t integrated properly.
Providers who are seeing a patient for the first time through telehealth need to make sure they have access to the patient’s up-to-date medical history. By having an interoperable network of health care technology, telehealth providers can make more accurate diagnoses, collect data and bill accordingly while providing the highest level of virtual ongoing care.
The increasing implementation of digital solutions is setting new trends in health technologies. In more than 50% of cases, consumers of European healthcare services are actively responding to the current trend in digital healthcare to use various applications:
control your health
to measure your fitness level
make a follow-up appointment
to fill prescription drugs
to share health-related data with your doctors.
Health technology trends in 2020
Healthcare delivery and healthcare prevention are based on AI technologies and diagnostics based on a personalized approach, which means implementing virtual healthcare and the accelerated global use of digital health tools and applications.
According to digital health experts, the specific areas that promise to grow in 2020 are as follows
Artificial health Intelligence
In recent years, digital technologies’ versatility has given birth to new health trends based on artificial intelligence. A significant wave of innovations in the AI healthcare market should prevail.
By David Gregg, M.D., chief medical officer, StayWell.
Technology can be harmful to our health, especially our emotional health. Those are the latest findings from Cigna’s recent study highlighting the epidemic of social isolation. The report details the impact technology has on younger adults, communities, and even workplaces. While health care continues to focus on the latest tech advances, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, providers are seeing a steady increase in social isolation linked to technology.
With an ever-expanding inventory of digital health tools at our fingertips, we need to balance the benefits that these advances offer, with a human-centered, personal touch to improve the health and well-being of individuals.
Digital health has made significant strides in improving the health of patients, expanding a network of apps, digital platforms, wearables, and plug-ins – creating greater connectivity among patients, providers, payers, and employers, while capturing meaningful health data.
As technology advances we’re seeing innovative ways to use this data to reveal trends, detect health issues much earlier, trigger alerts, and personalize health care. But the digital health universe still cannot capture a full picture of a patient’s entire health. For that we still need a human approach.
Social media is a double-edged sword, bringing us all together as never before, but causing greater isolation and diminishing the richness of person-to-person interaction. Digital health technology poses a similar dilemma — we can link patients to care systems as never before and generate new avenues to share timely data, but can we maintain the valuable patient-care team relationship and avoid overwhelming care teams with too many data sources and administrative tasks?
More data is good, but is it the right data and are we applying it to deliver optimal care and improve health? Advanced technology is good, but is it producing efficiency and enabling care teams to do what they do best – take care of patients?
Digital health is a balancing act – we want to leverage high-tech while we preserve high-touch. For example, to maintain focus on the patient, health coaches are playing a more prominent role in the delivery of care. Health systems and employers are turning to health coaches to serve as a high-touch health champion to drive engagement and support treatment adherence. Health coaches serve as the human bridge between patients, care teams, and health plans. Coaches help make sense out of the wealth of digital health data.
In 2020, much in our daily lives can be accomplished virtually. From clothes shopping to ordering groceries, there is a growing desire to accomplish important tasks remotely, allowing individuals to save time and effort on fewer in-person trips.
But with so much technology available, why does healthcare feel like it’s lagged behind?
Traditional telemedicine — typically involving phone calls and occasionally video chats with providers — has helped allow individuals to contact their doctors remotely, which can be a tool for both providers and their patients. The utility of telemedicine, however, has its limits, and it’s crucial for both healthcare professionals and average consumers to understand those limitations and move toward a better method.
That better method is represented by virtual health, a new way of thinking about remote doctor visits that combines the benefits of traditional, in-person doctor visits with the convenience and accessibility of telemedicine by establishing a virtual health hub that can accomplish nearly everything that a traditional visit can. This model involves providers on both sides of the visit, known as a “tele-presenter” model.
As a new decade begins, healthcare needs should be addressed through the innovative technology that drives much of our life. And with the correct shift in emphasis, virtual health can help improve healthcare for people who need it.
Here are three ways virtual health and telemedicine differ, and why the disruptive new platform is worth embracing:
Accurate, Detailed Visits
For the sake of a patient’s wellbeing, receiving an accurate diagnosis from a healthcare professional is critical. But with many telemedicine strategies, a detailed and accurate assessment can be difficult.
With a simple phone call or video chat, a doctor needs to rely on the patient to self-diagnose and can only ask them questions about their symptoms and how they’re feeling. While this can sometimes be effective, a doctor can’t give their best assessment without being in the room with a patient.
Fortunately, virtual health can bridge that gap by allowing a second professional to help the physician assess and diagnose the patient. In the case of the Health In Motion Network’svirtual health hub at Indian Lake High School — a partnership with Mary Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine, Ohio — a school nurse is on hand with the patient to help relay information to doctors, providing information that typically needs to come from an in-person meeting.
As a concept, telehealth has always impressed physicians with its potential. The ability to capture time-critical health information regardless of a patient’s location empowers a level of preventive care and early diagnosis never before possible. A physician can only observe the symptoms exhibited by a patient during a visit, but what of the symptoms exhibited in the course of the hours, days, weeks and months between visits? Each day, patients are subject to changes in their health as a result of lifestyle choices, treatment compliance decisions and physiological processes. Telehealth makes it possible to continually monitor these changes and take immediate remediation measures rather than waiting until the disease has progressed to a point of no return.
The advent of wireless devices that may be unobtrusively worn or placed in the home to track everything from pulse rate to frequency of night-time bathroom usage has made the real-time collection of a broad range of biometric data a reality. Moreover, the cost of such devices has dropped significantly over the past several years while their convenience and capabilities have grown. Despite this progress, the healthcare industry has yet to fully adopt telehealth or realize its enormous potential.
Some point to the lack of reimbursement as the culprit. Although device costs may have dropped, the overall expense of initiating and maintaining a telehealth program, including the associated device, data, personnel and training costs, is significant. However, two trends are chipping away at the economic side of the equation. First, state Medicaid programs are continually increasing the scope of reimbursement for tele-visits and remote monitoring, and both Medicare and private insurers have also started to move in the same direction. Second, the shift from fee-for-service to capitation models are providing compelling financial incentives for managed care organizations to fund telehealth programs.
Arguably a more critical obstacle to the mainstream adoption of telehealth is the challenge of data integration. Telehealth systems have developed along a separate track from electronic medical record systems. As a result, the telehealth data resides in a separate, landlocked silo from the patient’s medical history. Thus, even though data is being captured regarding the patient between physician visits, the physician still only sees and records the data accessible during the visit. At the same time, the telehealth program nurse is only seeing the biometric data without the context of the patient’s overall health profile that is accessible to the physician. With the data in landlocked silos, different members of the patient’s care team are unable to see the entire picture or effectively collaborate.