Path Forward BlogThe Future of Telehealth
What's Next? Critical Success Factors for Telehealth
How can healthcare practices prepare for the future of telehealth?
The technology has been available for more than ten years, but it took a global pandemic to break down the regulatory and reimbursement barriers and unleash the potential of telehealth for healthcare practices. CNBC reports, “analysts now expect general medical care visits to top 200 million this year,” but is telehealth sustainable the way we’re using it now?
At this point, it’s time to be thinking ahead. Decide to continue getting by with the telehealth solutions you quickly put into place around COVID-19, or #ComeBackStronger with a more comprehensive and responsive set of processes and technologies.
Telehealth can Come Back Stronger
Understanding how to build a long-term strategy around telehealth starts by examining the past and taking a critical look at where we are today. While many decisions are outside our control, a successful long-term telehealth offering for a physician practice must have the ability to:
- Adapt quickly to regulation updates
- Respond and communicate rapidly to changing circumstances
- Commit to a comprehensive solution that serves long-term needs
Fewer Regulatory Barriers… For now
By far, the most significant barriers to telehealth adoption have been and will continue to be related to reimbursements. Until the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth costs were predominately only covered for mental health and rural populations. COVID-19 changed that.
It’s too early to tell how the reimbursement model might change, but there have been so many upsides to telehealth for physicians and patients, that we can’t abandon it altogether. It is, for all intents and purposes, the new normal, and we must continue monitoring and responding to shifts in reimbursement.
Air Traffic Control Mindset: Rapid Responsiveness is Critical
The ability to respond rapidly is the number ONE success factor for using telehealth effectively.
Maintaining a safe practice environment will require constant monitoring with the ability to alert a subgroup of patients or staff at any given time. Like landing planes at O’Hare from the air traffic control tower, your healthcare practice needs to respond quickly in situations like these:
One of your doctors wakes up with symptoms of the virus. Your staff will need to quickly:
- Alert fellow staff members of possible infection and exposure
- Alert patients scheduled for that day NOT to come to the office
- Discern which patient appointments (based on vulnerability, insurance options, etc.) that day/week could be telehealth appointments
- Move essential office visits to another provider or reschedule for a future date (again considering a sub-set of criteria)
Later that day, a patient calls to report COVID-19 symptoms after visiting the office earlier that week. Your staff will need to:
- Notify staff members; discern quarantine guidelines
- Alert any patients in the office that day or after that time
- Reschedule appointments
- Monitor that situation for the next 14 days
Essential Capabilities for Maximum Responsiveness
Based on the above scenarios, it’s critical to have these rapid response capabilities in place:
- 24/7 centralized scheduling intelligence operations: A fast, easy way for patients or staff members to report possible infection, supported by the work processes related to changes. You need to be able to respond to emergencies 24/7/365 without having to send out emails. Our patient access teams use sophisticated guided process software that takes all preferences and scripts it real-time for the associates. Update information in one place, and that guided process is immediately updated and reflected in the next phone call that comes in.
- Patient routing to telehealth: Can your staff quickly identify which appointments can be changed to telehealth and reach those patients immediately? It’s essential to be capturing demographic information so you can more easily reach the right people in the future.
- An alert system: Text-based emergency alerts for reaching any subgroup of staff or patients instantly. Use it for schedule announcements to clinical staff and with patients for sharing up to the minute details on appointment changes and arrival instructions. We have seen a high demand for this and have been busy quickly building these capabilities for our clients.
- COVID screening capabilities will continue to be a must-have for maintaining a healthy environment. Our PFIT team developed an interactive-text based tool for our clients to conduct fast and easy patient pre-screening.
Lasting Telehealth Technology
At its core, telehealth platforms are inherently good quality audio + good quality video. The sustainability of the telehealth platform depends on how well it meets the needs of a specific practice. Many practices quickly adopted the fastest and most compatible solutions at that time, but are they the best fit for the long term?
Some things to consider planning a long-term solution include:
Is the technology platform you are using HIPAA compliant? We’re currently operating under a relaxed version of HIPAA restrictions due to the crisis, but that won’t last. Be sure your platform protects patient privacy and secures PHI as regulations change.
Does your current telehealth solution integrate with your EHR, or will there be separate data entry following every interaction?
What is the patient experience like for using your current telehealth solution? Is it a link or a download? If the experience hasn’t been seamless, think about what you would change.
Be Patient and Don’t Give Up
If there’s one thing the last two months have shown us, it’s to expect attempts and failures. It will still take some degree of trial and error to get us to a new normal where appointments flow seamlessly. Now is the time to plan ahead so your practice is in the best place possible to respond quickly and responsibly to the dynamic healthcare landscape.