Monday, February 8, 2021

How to Evaluate a Telehealth Platform Today

Telehealth affords both patients and physicians several advantages that have held the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The net result of its use is a fundamental shift in care that is likely to be permanent-and hospital and health system IT departments are busy helping their organizations adapt to this new reality.

IT’s approach to deploying a telehealth strategy within their organization has varied widely across hospitals and health systems. A lot of healthcare organizations have tactical, IT-led departments, and they’ll take a very tactical approach to {telehealth}, with all hands-on deck for COVID-19. Those that are strategic will look at what does this mean long term in what we plan to adopt and use, for example, for communication tools that we’ll use with our clinically integrated network.

Telehealth platforms can vary considerably across a few critical factors:

Ease of use- A platform should be easy for physicians to learn and use to facilitate consults and work completion. Asking patients to download and install an app or create a new account and log in each time can create friction. Your chosen platform should, instead, streamline the process for all involved. For physicians, ease of use means less time spent on tech support and more time on caring for patients. For patients, it means fewer missed visits (which equals higher reimbursement) and higher satisfaction.

Flexibility- Ideally, a telehealth platform is fully optimized for mobile, desktop and tablet. Conducting each consult in high definition is important for accurate diagnosis, but so is having a system that adjusts video quality automatically to accommodate low connection strength-not all do. Handing off calls seamlessly to another physician or care team member, and group visit seem more like an office visit.

Accessibility- A mobile-first approach can also help you access patients in new geographies and demographics. For example, research has shown that Black and Hispanic Americans own a smartphone at nearly identical rates as white Americans. This fact suggests that telehealth could help bridge the digital divide and address the care inequities often present in healthcare.

Security- Relaxed HIPAA regulations during COVID-19 have enabled non-healthcare players such as Skype and Face Time to enter the telehealth ecosystem. Once we get more settled, HITECH compliance will be a must. Without full compliance, many of these stop-gap solutions will no longer be viable once normal HIPAA enforcement returns.

Integration- It’s important to think about the integration of telehealth technology from the physician experience, as much as the patient journey, in order to make a lasting and wide-reaching impact within your healthcare management and delivery system. Look for a platform that can integrate with your clinical workflows considering both mobile and desktop EMR integrations.

If there is any positive to be found in this pandemic, it is that we are learning a lot about patient and physician behavior.

Since the virus took hold, we are seeing telehealth rewrite the rules of care delivery in exiting new ways. The field is maturing quickly. This is providing a chance for many organizations to take pause and find a “best fit” platform with staying power. IT decision makers must educate themselves even more by implementing secure and easy-to-use telehealth solutions along with the other criteria, which can result in a number of benefits, including better patient experiences, improved clinical outcomes, increased patient access, greater market share and a stronger bottom line.

A Telemedicine report by Doximity, the largest secure medical network with over a million verified members, helps quantify the effect telehealth has had on the healthcare industry. This was done with a survey of over 2,000 U.S. adults that was fielded on July 20, 2020, shortly after the initial shelter-in-place orders were instituted.

The study found:

That there had been growth in doctors self-reporting telehealth as a skill.

Physician adoption data from our own telehealth feature set, which has grown in the first half of 2020 to over 100,000 regular physician users.

There is strong evidence indicating that a true change in how medicine is delivered in the U.S. has happened.

Demand for telehealth service options will continue to grow quickly, and care providers may even find themselves competing to provide the best telehealth experience.

The challenges of telehealth moving forward will be how to balance between flexibility and accountability with regard to managing employees, ensuring that policies, especially HIPPA and HITECH are being followed and how to maintain your team’s morale and loyalty without having the in-person connections that some have grown accustom to.



About the Author 

Alonzo Blackwell, RHIA is currently a 2nd Year Director on the OHIMA FY 2020-21 Board of Directors, in charge of the Privacy & Security strategy.  Alonzo is a Manager of Health Information Management at Metro Health System in Cleveland, Ohio.