Telehealth is More Than Just Video Appointments
In recent years, there’s been a convergence between technological innovation and the healthcare industry. In their effort to transition towards a value-based care model, care providers are constantly testing and trying nascent technologies to see more patients, improve the quality of care, and reduce costs. This shifting mentality towards how to approach care was slowing evolving prior to the pandemic, then its adoption was turbo-charged in 2020 when COVID-19 hit the United States.
More healthcare professionals and even medical staffing companies are using telehealth every day to get in touch with their clients. We know about video appointments with doctors, but are there other forms of telehealth that benefit patients and providers?
What Are Telehealth Services?
The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) describes telehealth as “The delivery and facilitation of health and health-related services including medical care, provider and patient education, health information services, and self-care via telecommunications and digital communication technologies.”
It harnesses the power of digital information and communication technologies to increase access to remote health services and care. Common characteristics of a telehealth service technology include:
- Live video conferencing
- Remote patient monitoring
- Wearables that record and transmit vital signs
- Mobile health apps
- Patient information capture and storage
At its essence, telehealth service is about convenience and leveraging technology to improve care. In addition, it paints a more comprehensive and accurate picture of a patient’s health thanks to frequent data capture. Typically, much of the services can be grouped into one of four buckets:
- Direct-to-consumer – The majority of products and services in the space fall into this category. As the name implies, it connects patients and their data to providers.
- Self-service – Adds AI-driven technologies that prompts patients to log data and self-monitor their health and physical activity.
- Provider collaboration – Enhances the communication between physicians and their staff, as well as general healthcare practitioners with specialists.
- Virtual space and infrastructure – Involves equipping hospital rooms and other facilities with technology such as cameras, sensors, and monitors in order to provide better patient care.
Features of Telehealth
Although it’s easy to simply reduce telehealth to being a virtual doctor’s appointment, the modern meaning of telehealth also includes new, innovative ways of delivering healthcare and practicing medicine. According to Deborah Dahl, VP of patient care innovation at Banner Health, “Virtual health may have video, but it also could include artificial intelligence, apps, and chatbots,” as well as other technologies—all aimed at improving health, patient experience, decreasing costs, and improving provider satisfaction.
The telehealth meaning could include any of the following technologies:
Video Conferencing, High-Resolution Cameras
Clinicians are now bringing the doctor’s office to the patient’s home thanks to the use of real-time video conferencing platforms. It is important to note this concept of telehealth does not fulfill the same need for a home health provider. These systems allow a doctor to meet with their patient remotely, whether they’re across town or on the other side of the country. It offers patients a fast and easy way to speak with a healthcare professional without having to spend time and money on a trip to the doctor, especially for minor issues.
For instance, say you have an asthma inhaler prescription that needs to be re-upped every three months. In the old days, a patient might spend several hours visiting the doctor, waiting in their office, and then finally meeting for a checkup. Today, there’s a better way. With telehealth services, a patient can simply hop on a 5-minute video conference to ask for the prescription.
Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
Today, there are dozens of technologies that allow your care provider to remotely and proactively monitor your health. RPMs help care providers collect, transmit, and evaluate important patient health data.
- Devices that measure blood pressure, lung function, or heart health
- Mobile apps that allow patients to manually log their information
- Slip and fall monitoring
- Symptom management tools
According to the 2019 Trends in Remote Patient Monitoring report, “Healthcare provider RPM investments are helping drive the transition to value-based care. 88% of providers surveyed have invested or are evaluating investments in RPM technologies to support high-risk chronically ill patients whose conditions are considered unstable and at-risk for hospital readmissions.”
Some people may go months if not years in between an in-person visit to their doctor. RPM gives providers increased visibility over their patients’ health patterns, making it easier to detect complications or identify patients who require immediate medical assistance. In addition, it becomes much simpler to provide patients with chronic conditions with better care, which leads to better outcomes.
Smartphone and Tablets
A significant majority of Americans either own a smartphone or tablet, with many having at least one of both devices. Savvy care providers are using these miniature computers to improve care outcomes and increase access to at-home health care. Whether it be through a mobile application or specific program, these services allow a patient to practice self-care and:
- Create medication schedules and reminders
- Log their physical activity
- Track their health measurements
- Set appointment reminders
- Share health information with their doctor
- Send and receive messages to their provider, without ever setting an appointment
According to Forbes, “Mobile communications can help improve patients’ health, safety and overall care. Although the usage of mobile technology in healthcare is relatively new, it’s growing rapidly… over 95% of physicians and bedside nurses are expected to use mobile devices in some capacity by 2022.”
In the past, a significant percentage of patient provider communication was done primarily via email. Today, that’s been largely replaced by the virtual patient portal, which functions as a one-stop-shop for healthcare related activities and updates. It gives patients and doctors a secure way to communicate privately and can be used to:
- Request prescription refills
- Speak to a doctor or nurse
- Schedule appointments
- Examine test results and previous medical records
- Reach out to specialists
Store and Forward
Similarly, many providers are leaning on telehealth tech that captures, stores, and sends patient health information such as:
- Doctor’s notes
- CAT scans
A patient’s profile can either be accessed by the patient or sent to a specialist for evaluation. Naturally, this makes sharing protected health information a much faster, simpler, and more secure process than it ever was with physical documents.
Benefits of Telehealth
So, what are the benefits of embracing telehealth technology? They include:
- Increased access to healthcare – It’s easier for patients to remotely get the clinical services they need, including emergency or intensive care especially from rural areas. This also reduces the burden on healthcare providers who provide in-person consultations. Many patients will now visit their doctor in person only when it becomes medically necessary. Though virtual, it is still essential that medical professionals maintain sufficient professional liability insurance.
- Improved health outcomes – Increased visibility over a patient’s year-round health and easier access to care allows doctors to diagnose and treat health problems before they can develop and become costlier to address. This leads to lower complications, hospital stays, and mortality rates.
- Decreased healthcare costs and increased practice revenue – Virtual appointments cost less money (if they’re not already included as a part of their health insurance coverage). In addition, heightened visibility and proactive monitoring helps prevent negative care outcomes from occurring and reduces costly trips to the hospital or emergency room. Clinical workflows are streamlined which can reduce costs. Telehealth also reduces practice no-shows, which reduces practice overhead costs and improves efficiency.
- Empowered patients – Many of these services and applications encourage patients to take control of their personal health. They can be used for health education, training, and promotion.
- Reduced burden on healthcare providers – Telehealth helps address the problem of nursing and physician shortages. Patients have easier and faster access to the specialist or nurse they need to speak with and medical clinics and hospitals do not need to focus so heavily on allocating funds to paying staffing agency insurance costs.
- Bolstered clinical education programs – Especially for clinicians that are rural or remote, telehealth services make it much easier for them to continue their training and education virtually (or to have discussions with specialists).
What to Look for In A Telehealth Platform?
These days, there are dozens of telehealth services on the market. This can make it difficult to differentiate one platform from another. The American Medical Association has put together a Telehealth Implementation Playbook to help guide providers in getting started or improving their telehealth programs. The following are features that are important to have for any telehealth platform:
- Cloud-based platform – Long gone are the days of downloading and updating software. Modern telehealth services are cloud-based and web-based so that they can be accessed by any patient regardless of their device or technological savvy.
- HIPAA Compliant – If a provider is treating patients, the system they use is legally required to be HIPAA compliant. While there may be free communication platforms that patients could feasibly use to speak with their healthcare professional, most lack the necessary encryption and security measures to abide by HIPAA mandates.
- Business Associate Agreement – It’s essential that the platform is willing to sign a Business Associate Agreement which stipulates:
- How information can be stored on servers
- How information is protected and shared
- Hardware support – Patients and providers shouldn’t need specialized, expensive hardware to access their telehealth platform. Instead, all aspects should be accessible via common devices such as mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and desktops.
- Data capture – The healthcare system has paperwork that covers most every action taken by a doctor or patient. A modern platform will provide an automation system that makes it simple to fill out and compile relevant paperwork without needing to manually enter, scan, or email patient information.
Is Telehealth Covered by My Malpractice Insurance?
It should be. Check with your professional liability/malpractice provider to make sure that all telehealth services and electronic communications are covered the same they would be for in-person treatment. NOW Insurance assures providers that they are covered for telehealth implementation. We provide simple, fast and affordable insurance to healthcare practitioners, nurses and NPs and allied health workers, as well as general liability for private practices, hospitals and clinics. Get an immediate quote from our quick and easy online application.
The nature of telehealth leaves it more vulnerable to cyber-attacks and data breaches. Providers are encouraged to shop for cyber liability insurance so they would be relieved of financial distress if a breach were to occur.
Telehealth Services and the Future
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly advanced the adoption of telehealth across all types of providers and in many areas where it wasn’t previously being used. As healthcare and technological progress converge even more, telehealth services will only continue to advance and improve. So, whether it be video conferencing or patient capture via wearables, the technology’s ability to increase productivity, decrease costs, and improve patient care guarantee that these platforms represent the future of healthcare, whether we are experiencing a pandemic or not.
New England Journal of Medicine. What is Telehealth? https://catalyst.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/CAT.18.0268
Healthleaders Media. 4 Ways Telemedicine is Changing Healthcare.https://www.healthleadersmedia.com/innovation/4-ways-telemedicine-changing-healthcare
Spyglass. Trends in Remote Patient Monitoring 2019. http://www.spyglass-consulting.com/wp_RPM_2019.html
Forbes. Employing Mobile Devices To Improve Healthcare Communications And The Quality Of Patient Care. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2020/02/03/employing-mobile-devices-to-improve-healthcare-communications-and-the-quality-of-patient-care/#6e7c894f1a2f