Connected health is having a positive impact on healthcare – the evidence is growing. Physicians like it and are supportive of increasing its use in their practices. In fact, since the surge in usage during the pandemic, 75% say telehealth has enabled them to deliver quality care to not only COVID-19 patients but for many other needs as well, including:
- Acute care
- Chronic disease management
- ED and hospital follow-ups
- Preventative care
- Mental and behavioral health
Several of the benefits that connected health proponents have widely promised are becoming a reality, including timeliness of care, cost benefits to healthcare providers, and work satisfaction levels (which could also help address the burnout crisis).
Patient feedback has also been extremely positive. In a recent survey, patients gave telehealth an average score of 860 out of 1,000, which ranks higher than insurance, financial services, and other healthcare experiences.
Still, despite the positive momentum and surge in usage, there remain challenges in the continued growth and long-term impact. There’s little doubt that connected health can create a better healthcare delivery system and improve many of its inefficiencies. Still, both providers and regulatory bodies have to make connected health part of the routine healthcare discussion truly.
Overcoming Technological Barriers
The FCC says there are about 25 million Americans without broadband access – though technologists claim the true figure could be as high as 162 million people. On the federal level, The FCC continues to work to improve broadband connectivity in underserved areas, which would be needed to support telehealth applications in those places. Wireless carriers are also building out their 5G infrastructures, which could increase high-speed connectivity in many areas.
For many, there’s also the challenge of digital literacy. In particular, confusing technology requirements and technical issues during visits are a problem. One of the ways providers can help is to conduct appropriate technology assessments in advance. Patients can even be given hand-on demos during in-person visits, or can be included in pre-visit training sessions to ensure their actual visits are successful. It’s also important to train physicians and staff on basic troubleshooting so they are able to help with common issues during visits.
Better Coverage and Compensation Rules
While regulatory agencies took steps to ensure coverage during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure service availability and reimbursement for providers, those changes were temporary. There has been significant support from Federal agencies for making many of those changes permanent already, most recently including the introduction of the Protecting Access to Post-COVID Telehealth Act of 2021.
Also, state agencies are implementing new regulations to support the continued use of telehealth. Several have extended their original temporary measures, while others have enacted legislation creating permanent rules. Currently, 43 states plus Washington D.C. have implemented commercial payer laws, though only 22 explicitly address telehealth reimbursement and only 14 provide for reimbursement parity. But, both figures have grown in the past two years, indicating continued progress.
CMS has also implemented several permanent additions to its CPT code list specifically for telehealth services.
Improved Workflow Integration
One of the benefits of connected technologies is integrating various solutions and workflows to drive efficiency and simplify workloads. That isn’t always happening with telehealth, with more than half of clinicians complaining about not being able to access telehealth tools directly from EHRs, along with other integration and workflow challenges.
Better planning of the entire connected health environment can help solve these issues. Providers need to carefully plan their connected health strategies, including what services they want to offer (including future expansion). Including physicians and staff representatives in the planning stages can help better define strategies and understand which workflows can be improved and integrated into the connected health services. Choosing the right platform is critical to successful implementation. That includes making sure the platform can deliver on expectations and support strategic goals and integrate with other technologies, including enabling mobile access.
The writing is on the wall. Telehealth will be part of healthcare delivery. Just how quickly the industry can make it a regular and preferred part of care – as opposed to an alternative used when in-person care isn’t possible – depends on several factors. But, as positive experiences for physicians and patients continue to grow and as use cases continue to emerge, the pressure to build on the current momentum will increase.
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