As COVID-19 wrecks havoc on healthcare systems globally, healthcare providers are leveraging telehealth to protect staff and patients from contracting it.
Close to 97% of healthcare leaders have expanded telehealth access since the pandemic, according to one recent survey by the Medical Group Management Association.
Not only has virtual care been extremely critical in screening and treating COVID-19 cases from a distance, but it has also facilitated routine visits that would otherwise have been unsafe or even complicated during quarantine.
The provisional shifts have paved the way for telehealth adoption and expansion like never before. It has led to what is believed to be the next generation of delivery systems in the United States.
In this piece, we will be looking at why telehealth adoption is now more important than ever for healthcare practices targeting success and which state-of-the-art innovations can these organizations include within their care delivery models to stay ahead of their industry counterparts.
Why Does a Practice Need to Look to Telehealth Adoption Right Now?
1) Increased Operational Safety
Karen Donelan, a senior scientist at the Health Policy Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Mongan Institute says,“ The risk of infection and surging demands on the healthcare system have made telehealth a safe and necessary tool. Primary care and specialist clinicians are doing as many visits as possible using telehealth as a replacement for office visits”
More than 60% of patients now say the pandemic has increased their eagerness to try telehealth, according to a recent survey by Sykes.
“Most early deployments used videoconferencing but many now integrate Internet of Medical Things devices to monitor patients’ vital signs from a distance”, says Uri Bettesh, founder and CEO of Datos Health, a remote care and telemedicine platform.
Telehealth adoption has, in many ways, taken healthcare providers toward better operational safety and played a significant role in risk management.
2) Greater Access to Healthcare
Telemedicine can improve care and disease management, boost convenience, and lower hospitalization as well as readmission rates, especially for high-risk adults in senior housing communities.
In mid-March, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded telehealth services to include all Medicare beneficiaries on a temporary basis. Under the said relaxation, those living in healthcare settings and homes outside of rural areas can now use telehealth services for preventive health screenings, office visits, and mental health services.
“Any expansion of telehealth services is a very good thing,” Kari Olson, chief innovation and technology officer for senior living provider Front Porch, told Senior Housing News. “Especially during this time when we need folks to stay home, and in particular, to safeguard people over 65 as well as other high-risk individuals.”
A proposed bipartisan bill, the Reducing Unnecessary Senior Hospitalization Act, would permanently expand telehealth to include more Medicare patients. This will result in more and more patients opting for virtual healthcare visits, which will further increase care access even in the most remote regions of the country.
3) Conservation of Supplies and Bed Space
Telehealth has considerably lowered the demand for hospital beds and supplies by keeping low-risk patients at home and providing them with the necessary care remotely, helping some healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed.
Telehealth has also helped providers within a care delivery setting. At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, clinicians reach admitted patients via Apple iPad devices and Zoom “to not use up protective equipment just for a conversation and limit exposure,” Dr. Neal Patel, the organization’s CIO for health IT, said in a roundtable Q&A with HealthTech.
More systems are set to benefit: “In early April, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a $200 million telehealth program as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus response bill to help providers purchase telemedicine devices and equipment necessary to provide telehealth services — a move intended to free up valuable hospital space”, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a press release.
4) Enhanced Care Delivery
According to The American Journal of Managed Care, the global health emergency has called attention to existing economic, racial, and geographic disparities that can hinder access to medical treatment.
A rapid shift to telehealth could enhance access for marginalized groups that face the challenge of poor connectivity and limited resources on a frequent basis.
The reason behind this being that the telehealth program under the coronavirus response bill will furnish support to providers responding to the pandemic by helping patients in need acquire telecommunications devices and services for receiving connected care at home.
“It could really empower those communities to continue to have viable healthcare and clinics without having to go to a primary care center in another metro area,” says Buda of Banyan Medical Systems.
The pandemic has also pushed various specialists to expand telehealth for including critical needs such as cardiovascular care. Known as telecardiology, this can include smartphone-based rehab exercises, virtual home visits, and nurse-aided consultations at satellite clinics that are in proximity to the patient’s location.
Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente, which operates nearly 40 hospitals, is conducting more than 90% of its mental health visits virtually right now. Don Mordecai, a psychiatrist and the organization’s national leader for mental health and wellness, told STAT, “Such adoption would have taken years under normal circumstances.”
Technological Innovations to Incorporate within your Telehealth Care Delivery Model for Augmented Outcomes
Now that we’ve looked at the various reasons why telehealth adoption is gaining momentum under the current circumstances, let us get to understand which telehealth innovations can healthcare providers look to incorporate within their care delivery models for better outcomes.
Smart triage tools can provide patients seeking telehealth consultations with both self-care recommendations, and advice related to whether they should be opting for professional medical help. From chatbots to other smart AI tools, providing access to quick and effective care has gotten easier for healthcare providers with these triage platforms.
Digital biomarkers such as algorithms, sensors, and other tools that can accumulate data on both behavioral and physiological measurements happen to be the most cutting-edge technology in medicine right now.
Some healthcare tech giants are even working on developing applications that can judge a patient’s mental health by the way in which they swipe and interact with their phone. Others may be able to catch serious illnesses early while they’re more treatable.
Remote Monitoring Devices
These remote patient monitoring tools are already here and include more than just a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. From wearable tech to devices that can report complex actions such as when a person has low blood sugar levels or collapses, these products are saving lives in senior communities daily.
It is pretty easy to assume telehealth is primarily an outpatient solution. Even when a major chunk of telehealth solutions revolves around the remote aspect of care, it has also ushered a range of new technologies to be used in healthcare facilities. Some of these include:
Telehealth powered by IoT (Internet of Things) is a pioneering technology that is helping patients receive healthcare access through real-time treatment. This is especially favorable to elderly patients as the majority of them choose to altogether avoid hospital visits for routine consultations.
With the help of advanced household gadgets, patients can stay at home and seek consultations. They can also order drugs without physically having to go to stores by using Smart Assistants.
Data Collection and Analysis Systems
Telehealth taps into the power of data and provides healthcare organizations with detailed information on vital health statistics such as blood glucose levels, heart rates, and lab test results.
Using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence, data collection and analysis systems can be designed. By using these systems, hospitals can better process all this data to further ameliorate diagnoses and courses of treatment.
Patient portals do everything from schedule appointments to providing feedback, medication information, and more. This additional communication channel is vital in ensuring that patients make it to healthcare facilities when necessary and empowers them with tools they need to adhere to medication regimens.
When it comes to telehealth adoption, it appears that the industry has reached a critical point marking a change in course.
Research activity, increased consumer demand, and investment in this technology are all at a stage where technological advances are set to be exponential rather than linear, and that as the technology increasingly proves itself to be effective greater resources will need to be deployed towards furthering its impact and reach continually.
In addition to advances through technology research and development, the capacity for innovation and assessments of telehealth should also take the regulatory and legal factors governing use practices and coverage into consideration.
The ability to effectively connect both the business model for managing care with the technology-enabled model of care delivery will promote greater adoption.
Since organizational change management is key to successful implementation and integration at scale, evidence of best practices that can inform strategies for the effective redesign of workflow and managing data in a process of continuous learning and adaptation are critical.