Despite many challenges, last year saw several healthcare transformation trends that many experts think are here to stay. One of the most obvious trends is the increased use of telehealth services to improve patient outcomes and the patient experience. In 2019, only 11% of Americans availed themselves of telehealth services.
Telehealth services are driving healthcare transformation
Many patients were not aware that telehealth visits with a provider were an option. But even if they were, not all insurers covered telehealth at the same rate as in-person visits—if they covered them at all.
When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic in March of 2020, healthcare system providers, patients, and insurers reversed course pretty dramatically. Telehealth services helped providers achieve two important objectives during the pandemic. First, it allowed them to monitor patients with non-life-threatening cases of COVID-19 remotely, better protecting their non-infected patients and themselves. Second, it allowed them to see more patients in less time, a challenge the healthcare industry had been wrestling with for decades.
By June of 2020, respondents to a survey of healthcare providers told McKinsey researchers they were conducting 50 to 175 times the number of telehealth visits they did prior to COVID-19. Results have been somewhat positive, with 57% noting that they “now view telehealth more favorably.”
Keep in mind that the McKinsey study was conducted in June when many healthcare organizations were still working out the kinks in their systems. In a study conducted by Bain & Co. six months later, over 80% of physicians said they expect to use telehealth at similar or greater levels than they do now.
Patients also seem to like interacting electronically with their providers. In a recent HBR survey on patient attitudes toward telehealth, respondents said they were more likely to give high ratings to their provider after a telehealth visit than they were after an in-person consultation. Ironically, they told researchers that providers seemed more attentive on-screen than in person.
Many insurers have fallen in line with the telehealth trend, covering a wider array of telehealth services and at rates comparable to in-person visits. Payers are particularly interested in improving health outcomes to reduce costs, and some early forays into telehealth programs have been shown to reduce ER visits and hospitalizations. With results like these, even the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have temporarily eased restrictions on telehealth.
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How telehealth services & technology work
Telehealth is about more than having an electronic conversation between patient and provider. It’s about connecting patient and provider remotely, but in a sustainable and meaningful way for better outcomes, ideally at a lower cost.
The term “telehealth” originated back in the days when patients were able to access providers (usually an on-call nurse) for 24/7 help via the telephone. Since then, telehealth services have evolved to include much more than voice-to-voice connections.
No matter which term is used, transforming healthcare services through telehealth requires two types of communications platforms.
Synchronous communications happen at the same time, in real-time, like telephone or video interactions. Some of the more advanced telehealth programs almost always include video.
It’s these video interactions that have harbored some of the highest satisfaction ratings from consumers. And, as the millions of professionals now working from home know, that means using a video service.
When a healthcare system choosing a solution, keep in mind that it needs to be something the user can easily access from a device they already have. For most users, that means using a smartphone. It should also be easy to use as not everyone will have logged thousands of hours in web meetings over the last year.
Our clients use a wide variety of communications platforms. Some of these vendors have focused on creating a niche solution for healthcare providers concerned about HIPAA compliance. However, HIPAA-compliant telehealth services are as much about how you use the technology as the solution itself. It’s still the healthcare provider’s responsibility to keep the patient’s information, including both recorded and live calls, secured.
Patients and providers will also need a way to exchange information asynchronously before and after the visit. Asynchronous communications are those that do not happen at the same time, like using a patient portal. While a majority of healthcare providers already offer portals for patient care, many suffer from lack of adoption.
To improve adoption, it’s essential to keep the end user’s needs in mind. In this case, that user is both patient and provider. As with synchronous communications, the portal needs to be easy to use. In addition, modernizing healthcare may require the provider to add additional capabilities.
For example, some telehealth providers are using specific monitoring devices for their patients to upload vital readings. Others are using consumer wearables like FitBit and the Apple Watch. Either way, your portal should include a way for the patient to quickly and securely upload their information and for providers to consult the readings. Ultimately, we see providers adding AI capabilities to alert them of health concerns, maybe even before the patient is aware of them.
Latency is another critical issue to keep in mind when assessing portal adoption challenges. Patients may be willing to wait 20 minutes or more to see a doctor, but they may not wait 20 milliseconds for your portal to load. A responsive portal requires an optimized infrastructure and a development team that understands how to program for reduced latency.
Choose the right healthcare cloud services partner
Many health systems providers are migrating workloads to the cloud because they recognize they don’t have the expertise, or the bandwidth required to maintain their own infrastructure. With such sensitive information being exchanged, it’s vital to choose a provider partner that understands your business.
TierPoint has been providing managed infrastructure and services to healthcare providers for more than twenty years. Learn more about our cloud, disaster recovery, and security and compliance solutions for healthcare organizations.