Concern over COVID-19 led patients across the U.S. to avoid in-person healthcare. This led to the explosion of virtual medicine. Over 41 million telehealth claims were filed between April and July 2020. This marks a 4,000% year-over-year increase over the same time period in 2019.
Below, we've outlined four key consideration points for implementing telemedicine services.
Benefits of telemedicine
1. Improving rural care and solving staffing shortages
As provider shortages continue, it's hard to find physicians willing to move to rural hospitals. It is even more difficult to find specialists that can provide more targeted care.
Rural hospitals are key points of care in the communities they serve - often the only accessible care facilities. But rural hospitals are closing at an alarming rate. Hospital closures are often due to a lack of resources and small patient populations. This leaves patients without access to reliable medical care.
Currently, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is focused on telemedicine in rural America. One method is through the Connect America Fund. This supports new broadband infrastructure in remote areas.
Broadband installation can help in three ways:
Enable city-based physicians to treat more patients
Connect specialists to rural hospitals, and
Give patients access to a wider pool of physicians
Broadband could enable better telehealth services. Rural patients could then experience faster diagnoses and better follow up care. Telehealth could also prevent travel that would otherwise be a barrier.
The shift toward value based care and consumerization emphasizes patients' needs. Telehealth reduces wait times and lowers care costs. This appeals to patients and improves HCAHPS scores. Telehealth can also improve other quality metrics associated with value-based care.
Reduced wait times
Telemedicine technologies help patients avoid long waits in a doctor's office. A telemedicine check-in can help patients get faster opinions on health concerns. Patients can seek additional treatment in person if needed. Rural hospitals using telemedicine in theirERs saw patients six times more quicklythan hospitals that did not.
There are significant privacy and security risks in telehealth systems. These can impact patient and clinician trust as well as willingness to adopt and use the system. With telemedicine, there are a few concerns:
Physicians must ensure they’re in a location where no one can overhear the virtual visits. Otherwise, this would violate HIPAA’s privacy and confidentiality requirements.
Some telehealth devices may collect and send information about substance abuse or housing.
Smartphone apps may share sensitive data with advertisers and other third parties.
Hackers and malware pose a security threat despite development efforts.
More than 14 million patient records were breached in 2019 alone. Over 580 hospitals & IDNs were subjects of hacking or IT security breaches in the last 2 years, according to Definitive Healthcare data.
2. New legal and compliance issues
As physicians add telemedicine services, they need to consider legal and compliance issues. This includes everything from telemedicine-specific regulations to Medicare coverage restrictions.
Telemedicine allows providers to cross states to provide care. This raises licensing concerns. With telemedicine, a physician is “practicing medicine” at the patient's location. So, it is critical for provider to verify the patient’s location at the time of the consultation. This ensures they have the appropriate state license to provide the tele-care.
There are many restrictions on the use of telemedicine to prescribe controlled substances. This is particularly due to the U.S. opioid crisis.
Coverage for telemedicine varies. State Medicaid programs can decide when telemedicine visits are covered. Under Medicare, telemedicine is currently only covered if:
The service utilizes real time, two-way, audio-visual telecommunications
The patient is at a qualified physician practice or hospital (with many in rural or remote areas)
The provider is credentialed and authorized for practicing telemedicine
The service itself is approved by CMS for telemedicine
What COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 virtual care look like
What the changes in telehealth restrictions mean for patients and providers
Other ways digital expansion in healthcare can continue to evolve to accommodate a virtual care model
How this will impact healthcare-focused sales and marketing
Originally published in July 2019 under the title "4 Ways Telemedicine is Changing Healthcare".
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alanna Moriarty is a healthcare industry writer and content strategist. As the Content Marketing Manager for Definitive Healthcare, she most enjoys connecting the dots between data and care delivery. ...