Before the coronavirus pandemic outbreak, telehealth was a part of the standard delivery of care in the U.S. but used very rarely. By end of April 2020, telehealth visits had hit the roof to nearly one million visits per week. Many patients and providers have found that they appreciate the conveniences of virtual healthcare and its support of the physician-patient relationship.
According to the American Medical Association (AMA) study which was released in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit the U.S. hard, reveals that telemedicine visits with physicians had already doubled from 2016 to 2019. Still, the pandemic has led to an unprecedented spike in usage. Telemedicine is here to stay, but exactly how it will be incorporated into evolving community standards of care is the question driving discussion and argument within many specialties.
Telehealth provides an “audio-video interaction” that allows patients to be virtually screened and examined, while also allowing health care providers to collect patient data. Successful virtual screening prior to an in-person visit with patients, for example, can help protect patients, clinicians, and the community from virus exposure.
Telehealth Platform and Pricing
Bill Riley, director of sales operations and marketing at Medical Advantage Group, which provides support for telehealth implementation and training services nationwide, divides platform types into three categories:
This is a sidecar to the EHR, also known as a “dual connect” solution. The physician is speaking to the patient via one monitor while documenting in the EHR in another. While offering the lowest amount of integration, in terms of patient workflow or connectivity to the practice EHR, this option presents the lowest cost and greatest ease of access for physicians.
This add-on to a practice’s EHR is purpose-built for virtual patient visits, providing the same audio and live video communications as stand-alone solutions, but improving the patient’s experience through features such as automation of pre-visit authorization paperwork and a virtual waiting room. While most vendors in this category allow the practice to document in a version of a progress note, many practices do their documenting directly in the practice EHR to avoid any loss of data.
Fully integrated solution
Riley describes full integration as the “most elegant” solution, but also potentially the most expensive. The video visit portal is right there within the EHR, with scheduling, pre-visit questionnaires, technology, and bandwidth test, and the patient portal integrated. A virtual waiting room will be included, and all documentation flows into the practice’s main EHR.
As we continue into the uncertainties of the future, key Telehealth takeaways include:
Incorporating telemedicine/telehealth doesn’t just mean that providers should have a video meeting every now and then. Some practices already using it, but it’s a new process for some practices, which means new roles and duties for staff.
Patient Education and Awareness
The challenge in telehealth is not a video visit, it’s getting patient there for a video visit with providers. Providers or their staff members should guide patients for this totally new platform for some patients before their first telehealth visit. IT support should be set aside with all required resources for preparing patients to visit the video calls. This way both providers and patients can prevent virus infection.
Providers should learn or hire an outsourced medical billing company to take care of the telehealth visits documentation part for claim submission.
Providers should go for a secure telehealth service provider system. Practices may be surprised by how many cybersecurity controls are available within their existing technology, but they are unaware and not enabled yet. If needed contact service providers for a guide or assistance, but do not leave valuable private healthcare information unguarded.
Telehealth: Future of Healthcare
Telehealth has received prominent consideration from state and federal governments as a safe and practical mechanism for providing care as new coronavirus cases continue to rise. However, these services may also make a useful involvement in the longer-term problem of rising costs and access barriers across the broader U.S. health care system.
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