Telehealth, Technology Innovation and The Future of Healthcare

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.

How has telehealth improved over the course of the pandemic to the point where it has become such a well-liked option for people?

Telehealth is actually making the scheduling of health appointments more convenient than ever before. In addition to regularly scheduled appointments, such as the routine management of chronic conditions, individuals are facing heightened anxiety due to COVID-19 and are more likely to make appointments to investigate mental and physical health concerns. Telehealth allows patients the convenience of having appointments wherever they’re at. For mental health services, such as therapy or medication management, this is making a huge difference in terms of access. A recent study showed that 72% of respondents had their first virtual care visit ever during the pandemic, with more than 75% saying they were very satisfied with their experience.

Baby Boomers and older generations are a demographic that traditionally have been hesitant to adopt telehealth services. However, even they have accepted adopting these technologies out of necessity. In fact, a large global telehealth provider shared that the average age of the person that they send tablets and remote patient monitoring devices to is 77. More than 90% of this population can get their technology up and running without the help of tech support.

How have tech companies innovated with regards to telehealth that ensures doctors can provide the same quality of care as in-person visits?

There continue to be new and exciting technology innovations that make providing healthcare in the home via telehealth a much more viable option. From biometric devices to IOT sensors, healthcare workers are still able to track health data even from a distance. These insights are invaluable to understanding the patient’s health and their environment so virtual visits are more effective and efficient for all stakeholders.

For example, Apple recently expanded its Apple Watch electrocardiogram capabilities with guidance from the FDA, to now enable EKG tests. With aging patients avoiding routine doctor’s appointments during the COVID-19 scare, the need for monitoring patient heart health remotely is greater than ever. Over the next decade, we’ll continue to see more consumer-facing health offerings that enhance virtual visits and supplement in-person care.

Data security and management is also more important than ever and a particular challenge. To manage, healthcare companies are prioritizing investments in two critical areas. The first is network security and access technologies to ensure that any system can be accessed remotely and securely. Companies like Okta are winning big in this area. The second area of investment is interoperability, technology that connects disparate systems reliably and securely. Skedulo has partnered with a leader in this space, Bridge Connector, which enables mobile healthcare workers to consistently and reliably access patient EHRs and hundreds of other systems from anywhere while maintaining HIPAA compliance.

What are some of the benefits of telehealth for patients?

A key benefit is expanded access. While busy professionals appreciate the convenience it provides them, they’re not the primary demographic telehealth benefits. Virtual care opens the door for underserved groups to receive more regular check-ins and preventative services. Think of rural parts of the United States, where it may be a several hour drive to access a specialist, or low-income communities where blue-collar workers can’t afford to take the day off to go physically see a doctor. These types of individuals are able to receive preventative care more easily, helping improve their long term health and preventing more costly issues down the line.

It also prevents the spread of contagious diseases, which is especially beneficial for immunocompromised and senior patients.

How has the user experience influenced how tools for telehealth have evolved over time? And, how has that benefitted both doctors and patients?

The user experience, both on the part of the patient and healthcare worker, is extremely important when implementing telehealth. Requiring healthcare workers to switch between multiple apps to administer care is laborious and time-consuming. Having one centralized location that prioritizes interoperability will ensure the UX on is streamlined. This means having access to patient EHRs, note-taking, internal and external communications, resources and trainings, appointment schedule, the telehealth portal and more.

At Skedulo, we have built integrations to video conferencing tools, like Zoom or Lifesize, directly within our scheduling and productivity app. This enables our customers to book telehealth appointments with patients without having to switch between our app and a video conferencing tool. Both the patient and healthcare worker can then join the appointment with just a tap within the app rather than having to work through several platforms. This helps reduce patients’ frustrations and improves the customer experience all while helping limit administrative work for providers, boosting their productivity.

What are the pros and cons of telehealth compared to in-person doctor visits?

Telehealth is beneficial for the tired and burnt out healthcare worker, especially those who provide home health visits. According to a study by Home Care Pulse, the average attrition rate for a home healthcare agency is 66% per year. Home healthcare workers are clearly encountering burn out, struggling with the many demands of their job. From mapping out daily routes, to carrying laptops with access to EHRs, to communicating with patients, to inputting the patient’s treatment plan, nurses are asked to do too much, when the priority should be on patients. Telehealth offers workers a temporary break from the hustle and bustle of their day-to-day and focus on what really matters: patient outcomes.

A large challenge of virtual care is twofold: keeping clinicians and patients engaged. For certain services, like behavioral or physical therapy, it requires experimenting with different tactics to maintain engagement and ensure proper care. It’s important to remember that healthcare professionals don’t go to medical or nursing school to provide care via telehealth. They are caregivers who are inherently trained to be hands-on and so more training needs to be available to help them strengthen their virtual muscle.

Do you have any customers that have fully embraced telehealth? What sort of ROI have they seen?

Catalight and Solace Pediatrics Home Healthcare, two separate Skedulo customers that deliver autism therapy services. Both switched from 100% in-person services to 100% virtual services in March during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

Solace Pediatric Home Healthcare were able to complete 85% of the “normal” level of appointments in their first week of operations. By week two, they completed all of their typical appointments, and in week three, they set a new record, exceeding their pre-pandemic level of operations.

It’s clear that there’s a demand for these services and that we’ll continue to see demand even after the pandemic. Nearly 75% of individuals who have gone to a telehealth appointment in the pandemic stated they want virtual care to be a standard part of their care moving forward — half stating they’d switch providers for the offering. In order to stay competitive and meet patient’s needs, providers need to embrace telehealth and the necessary digital transformation that comes with it.

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