By Rakhee Langer, vice president, healow telehealth solutions, eClinicalWorks.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it sparked revolutionary change across the health care industry, from a more focused need for ongoing communication with patients and telehealth solutions. Practices immediately had to shift their in-office visits to an online presence — changing with the times.
Initially, there was hesitation from both the patient and the provider whether conducting online visits would prove to be on par with in-person visits. However, the concerns surrounding technology adoption were quickly mitigated and both patients and providers found that telehealth was not just easy to adopt but also facilitated a productive medium for care.
During the peak of the pandemic, almost all visits were conducted via telehealth, helping to ensure the safety of both the patient and the provider. It was key to determine which types of visits could be done over telehealth.
We found that providers across all specialties—including neurology, behavioral health, pediatrics and dermatology—found ways to continue providing effective and comprehensive care. Of course, there are exceptions and certain types of visits that require an in-person physical examination.
However, physicians have found that telehealth is an avenue to conduct pre-surgery consults, post-surgery follow-ups and screenings in which it may not require the patient to come into the office. All specialties, including urgent care centers, have begun to use telehealth as well as solutions for check-in and bill payment that limit contact and thus reduce potential exposure to COVID-19.
Additionally, questionnaires and wearables have proven to be a vital component of the pre-visit process as physicians are able to maximize their time and quality of care provided. As practices discovered that obtaining more information from patients would make their visits more relevant, questionnaires were implemented depending on the types of specialties and appointments. Providers can customize these questionnaires to accommodate their specialties and the needs of their patients, and collect key vital signs information.
Providers also want the ability to share laboratory results and ongoing changes in patient care plans as part of their treatment strategy. Many of these types of visits, such as chronic care management in which the patient is stable, require a discussion of laboratory results or personal habits rather than a formal examination, and thus telehealth and tools such as screen-sharing have proven to be an effective solution. Throughout the past several months, our assumptions about the ease of use, effectiveness and thoroughness of telehealth have been validated through conversations with both patients and providers across specialties.
Moving forward, we hope to expand into group counseling visits and, broaden the scope of contactless check-in. Specialties such as behavioral health, nutritional counseling and lifestyle visits have shifted from an on-site model to an online model, and I believe this is the direction they are going in.
Telehealth can facilitate effective care for these types of visits since the patient does not need to be in-person with the doctor. Many physicians report seeing an improvement in their patients’ health; and conducting appointments with patients in the comfort of their own homes has, at times, made for more effective visits.
It will be vital that insurers continue to cover telehealth consultations, while policy makers will need to extend relaxed regulations. Without expanded reimbursement coverage, many patients, especially those in rural areas, will be deprived of access to safe and comprehensive health care.
During this time of crisis, patients and providers alike are finding telehealth a convenient and safe way to provide routine care, and many kinds of consultations, as they juggle their already busy schedules. eClinicalWorks and healow are proud and excited to be working with customers across the nation to develop products and services to meet the emerging needs.