After seeing such a huge increase in Telehealth Visits across the entire family of practices utilizing M3-Paient Experience®, it became apparent telemedicine has arrived and arrived in a BIG way. One of MedicalGPS’ larger clients has set a goal of converting their out-patient, in-clinic visits from nearly 100% in-person to 80% telehealth.
All MedicalGPS clients have shifted into high gear as it relates to deploying telehealth services. More and more patients are experiencing telehealth visits for the first time, and many are indeed feeling pretty good about their telehealth experience and enjoying the benefits and efficiencies.
A Silver Lining from COVID-19
As management of the COVID-19 pandemic required social distancing, minimizing human-to-human contact, and finding effective ways to protect both patients and healthcare workers, it was clear telemedicine is an effective weapon against the pandemic. Depending on how your organization has been impacted, and how well your organization is prepared to fully embrace telemedicine, this could be one of the silver linings resulting from this terrible pandemic.
Below are seven (7) excerpts and brief reviews of recent telemedicine articles. I am hopeful you will find the sampling helpful, serving as an overview of where we are, and where we’re likely to go, as it relates to the utilization of telemedicine in the future.
Expect it to Become the Standard of Care
When I researched, “Is Telemedicine Here To Stay”, one of the articles that came to the top of my search results was an article by Bree E. Holtz, PhD, an associate professor at Michigan State University. The article mentions telemedicine has actually been around since the 1950’s, which was a surprise to me, and the term “telemedicine” was coined in the 1970’s.
“I believe that this current public health crisis will finally demonstrate if telemedicine has turned the corner as a practical and safe way to deliver and receive routine care. There is going to be such a push from the public to have and be able to continue to use this type of service that I would expect it to become a standard of care for many.” — Bree E. Holtz, PhD
Dr. Holtz does mention that she will continue to monitor telemedicine trends and that we can read more about her findings on her blog, here.
No More Excuses
For mental health professionals you would think using telemedicine would have been a go-to solution for sometime now. The technology has certainly been around long enough and has rapidly improved and permeated our society over the last few years.
Two main barriers that have prevented the use of telemedicine in the mental health arena, according to this article, “Seeing Your Mental Health Provider Virtually Is Here To Say, By Deborah Cohen and Cory Morris, are; 1) bureaucratic hurdles in the private and public sectors, and 2) insurers and policymakers at the state and federal levels.
After reading the article I get the sense that the policy makers may have based their resistance on a false belief that telehealth consultations were less effective than in-person consultations.
“The excuses provided by opponents of telehealth expansion, such as that not seeing someone in person diminishes the standard of care, have been discredited, and protectionism cannot stand in the way of the implementation of telemental health.”
Broadened Access to Telehealth Services
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other health care providers (HCPs) transitioned their clinical practice to telemedicine in the last few weeks.” — Subha Varahan, MD
Soon into the COVID-19 crisis the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that access to telehealth services should be expanded to help in the fight against the pandemic. Soon afterwards the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) broadened access to telehealth services so that beneficiaries could receive a wider range of services from their doctors without having to travel to a health care facility. While the expansion of telemedicine was written as a temporary and emergency measure through the 1135 waiver and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, it would surprise me if the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reverses the telemedicine aspects of the 1135 waiver.
Mobilize Your Resources
“Providers who do not yet have on-demand telehealth programs should mobilize internal resources to build infrastructure and capacity.
To encourage patient uptake of telehealth options, providers should proactively and frequently provide information through patient-facing websites, social media, and direct outreach about how to use the technology to access care.” – Jared Augenstein
Jared Augenstein is a director with Manatt Health. In the article “Opportunities To Expand Telehealth Use Admid The Coronavirus Pandemic”, Mr. Augenstien makes note that companies such as TelaDoc, AmWell, Buoy and others are seeing increases in the use of their telehealth platforms.
What’s interesting to me is, currently, platforms that are FREE may also be used, which makes navigating the telehealth options a little tricky. Below is a quote from President Trump, which I ran across in STAT Reports.
Works Well for Some Patient Encounters But Not ALL
“Telemedicine won’t replace exams and procedures, and not all of medicine can be conducted over an app, much like you wouldn’t want every interaction with your friends and family to happen over FaceTime. But virtual visits may work for discussing lab or imaging results and handling minor complaints that don’t require an exam.” — Peter L. Steinberg
In the Wall Street Journal article, “Virtual Doctors Are Here to Stay, Relaxed rules on telemedicine should be the new norm”, Mr. Steinberg makes a good point in that telemedicine cannot completely replace face-to-face experiences.
As a business tool, here at MedicalGPS we have been using teleconferencing since our inception back in 2003. While there is no doubt the internet has made it possible for us to make, and even nurture relationships with our clients, when we do have a chance to meet clients in-person, the relationship is strengthened and made even better.
Competitive Pressures From Patients and Law Changes
“But what’s going to happen when the emergency ends and they go back? At the end of the day, I think some of the law changes will make it tenable to stick with telehealth, and the competitive pressures from patients will help.” — Christina Farr
Christina Farr is a technology and health reporter for CNBC.com in San Francisco. In the article linked below Ms. Farr talks about UC San Francisco cardiologist Ethan Weiss, MD, and quotes Dr. Weiss as saying the use of telehealth has been, “waaaaaaaaay better than I thought”.
I agree with Ms. Farr; if you are leading a healthcare organization, the pressure to stay competitive now includes bolstering your service offerings, which must include seamless telehealth offerings beyond what most healthcare providers have experienced in the recent past.
Payers Catching-up With Technology
“It wasn’t so much the technology that wasn’t ready. It was probably the payers that weren’t ready because what happened last week because of the pandemic, Medicare changed its policies to allow the health professionals to provide telemedicine to Medicare to be reimbursed.” — Ray Hanley, the CEO Of Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care
With the government expanding the use of telemedicine, part of what changed is the fact that a prior relationship with a patient is NOT required to engage the patient using telehealth technologies. Before the emergency regulations went into play, only established patients could take advantage of telehealth visits.
“Now, it’s been broadened to make it a lot easier. Now, Medicaid has done a really good job of opening up telemedicine for a lot of provider types, and I think a lot of that can still be here once this is hopefully over.” — Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson
Talk Business & Politics, “Telehealth, telemedicine here to stay, says expert”, By Talk Business & Politics staff
Telemedicine is Here to Stay
Based on everything I’ve read since the COVID-19 crisis kicked telemedicine into overdrive, I would have to say, “Telemedicine is here to stay”.
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Jerry L. Stone