To meet the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers were forced to quickly scale up telehealth programs in 2020.
During the first two quarters of the pandemic, consumer usage grew 35% compared with the same period last year.
There are a number of benefits of shifting to virtual care
In addition, McKinsey research shows that 76% of patients are interested in using telehealth moving forward. Meanwhile, 57% of care providers view telehealth more favorably than they did before.
With both patients and providers becoming more comfortable with virtual care, telehealth is set to become a mainstream care model.
Including: Improved patient convenience
Greater access to care
Better patient outcomes
Improved patient retention
Improved provider satisfaction
More efficient healthcare systems
To build a sustainable telehealth program, providers need an affordable solution that integrates with their existing tools and workflows, is easy for providers and patients to use, and has the security to safeguard (Protected Health Information) PHI.
To help providers take a 30,000 ft view of the evolving telehealth landscape, in the rest of this paper we look at the potential use cases for digital care, supporting technology, and budget considerations.
Medical Use Cases for Telehealth
With the right technology infrastructure, virtualized care has the potential to bring benefits to a great number of care scenarios. As per McKinsey estimates:
20% of all emergency room visits could be avoided with virtual urgent care
24% of office and outpatient consultations could be delivered virtually
35% of regular home health services could be virtualized
Telehealth can help to either fully or partially virtualize care for both outpatient and in-patient care. These are
some of the most effective use cases to consider for telehealth:
Remote patient monitoring
Remote patient monitoring is the umbrella category that encompasses a broad range of patient scenarios for telehealth. With doctors and patients connected via high-quality video, EHR integration, and connected medical devices, doctors can evaluate, diagnose, treat, and observe patients remotely.
Care scenarios include post-surgical care, chronic disease management, urgent care, acute care, patient compliance, patient education, and more. Remote patient monitoring also has applications for inpatient care settings. For example, during the current pandemic, virtual rounding has allowed care providers to offer optimal care to isolated patients while protecting themselves from COVID-19.
Patients recovering from an acute illness or injury may undergo a lengthy post-acute rehabilitation period. This often involves coordination between multiple medical experts of different disciplines and requires the patients to travel between offices.
For example, a patient recovering from a car crash may need an assistant to help them with daily physical therapy exercises. With a telehealth video solution, a physical therapist can remotely guide the patient and their care assistant through exercises from the patient’s own home.
Virtual coordinated care is also useful in in-patient settings, especially in rural areas with limited medical resources. With an in-hospital telehealth solution equipped with video and connected medical devices, the onsite care provider can coordinate with a remote expert to evaluate the patient and advise a treatment plan.
Video-powered virtual visits remove barriers for patients to receive routine medical care. Virtual visits can be used for non-acute consultations such as cold symptoms or skin irritation, and for chronic disease management.
A Colorado hospital, for example, used video conferencing to boost the frequency of physicianpatient consultations for young adults living with type-1 diabetes. The goal of the program was to help this high-risk group avoid lapses in medical care and avoid complications related to the disease.
With face-to-face video consultations, medical professionals can engage in early intervention, offer digital coaching, or oversee the home-administration of medication.
Virtual Care for Behavioral Health
Hospitals often have limited resources to provide the best treatment to people with behavioral health or addiction issues. Unfortunately, when someone suffering from a behavioral health episode is cleared of an acute medical emergency, they are most often transferred to law enforcement for transport to prison.
But with a mobile telehealth solution, there is a better option.
With the help of video conferencing, a hospital in Charleston has implemented a TelePsych program to help patients get the most appropriate care at the moment of need. Once a patient is cleared of a medical emergency, EMS calls in a mobile crisis team member. The patient is then connected to a behavioral health professional via
video for immediate assessment and treatment recommendation.
Not only does this free up hospital resources for medical emergencies, but it provides patients with access to care that might not otherwise be available.
Technology for Telehealth
Even though patients are becoming more comfortable with virtual care, they still want a certain type of interaction with their care provider. Patients want to have confidence in their doctor’s expertise, the effectiveness of care, and the protection of their privacy. To facilitate this in a virtual setting and provide an immersive experience, providers need to blend the barriers between technology.
This includes hosting infrastructure, video endpoint devices, connected medical devices, and interoperability with medical software and workflows.
Hosting for Telehealth
When expanding telehealth services, care providers likely need to expand their hosting capacity as well.
While most IT spending slumped in 2020 along with the pandemic economy, public cloud spending grew an estimated 19%. To connect patients with physicians in outpatient settings, healthcare providers should consider hosting telehealth offerings via public cloud or private cloud. Many telehealth providers have exclusive hosting arrangements with a chosen cloud service provider—the most popular of which are Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Google Cloud Platform.
It’s important to investigate which cloud provider your telehealth solution will be hosted on because this will impact integration with your other digital toolsx
While public cloud will be the most scalable hosting option for outpatient telehealth, on-premise hosting may be a practical option for in-hospital telehealth solutions —especially if your facility has existing capacity on pre-owned servers. A third option is a hybrid hosting solution. Under this model, hospitals continue hosting programs via on-site infrastructure but also scale up telehealth services by purchasing subscription or usage-based cloud capacity
Telehealth solutions need to be cost-effective and easy to use. Therefore, it’s best to seek out a solution that is compatible with a broad range of endpoints—ideally, the ones doctors and patients are already using.
With browser and device agnostic telehealth video conferencing apps, patients can communicate with medical professionals from the tablet or smartphone they already own. To further boost adoption, select a video communications tool that supports clickto-connect functionality so users do not need to download a new application and register an account.
Telehealth solutions should also be compatible with hardware on-site at your care facility, such as bedside monitors.
For 360° care, doctors and patients need access to historical and real-time medical data. To ensure a seamless care experience for patients and access to medical records for care professionals, your telehealth solution should integrate with your EHR system.
With a fully integrated solution, doctors can access patient charts and records and conduct a virtual consultation from the same platform. Likewise, patients can log-on and view their medications, test results, billing, past appointments, and join virtual appointments by tapping a button to connect.
Connected medical devices can help doctors monitor, diagnose, and treat patients outside of a clinical setting. Simple wearable devices can collect info on a patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and activity level. With integrated devices, this data can be automatically logged in an EHR or patient care software program.
More advanced devices like TytoCare’s handheld device allow physicians to remotely examine a patient’s heart, lungs, skin, ears, throat, and abdomen, and body temperature. Horus scopes and stethoscopes designed for telemedicine are also common in the virtual care environment
To support these vital programs in the near-term and long-term, healthcare system administrators can take the following steps:
Seek a solution that meets specific needs of the patient population
Apply for alternative funding such as federal grants and reimbursements
Collect data to measure the efficiency and financial sustainability of the program
A Specific Solution for Specific Needs
There are many telehealth solutions available on the market—and they won’t all be right for you and your patients. A bloated solution with unused or unnecessary features will eat up budget—likely at the expense of quality care. Before deciding on a solution, form an exploratory group to interview care providers and patients to see where the true need lies.
Grants and Alternative Funding
Cash-strapped hospitals may find it difficult to support the telehealth programs patients and medical professionals need. Fortunately, the federal government has opened numerous funding opportunities to support telehealth and connected services in 2021.
The FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program is being extended as of this writing, with an additional $249.95 million in federal funding. Additional funding opportunities are available through the HSS, HRSA, and USDA.
Keep in mind, grant opportunities are competitive and time-sensitive. To successfully receive an award, have a grants team in place lead by a project champion. Before pursuing any funding opportunity, your team should answer these questions:
Are we eligible for this grant/funding opportunity?
Will this funding help us solve a specific medical or services need?
Will we be able to comply with the postaward requirements?
Do we have the cash flow for any necessary upfront purchases (for reimbursement programs)?
Will we be able to sustain the program after funding expires?
It’s difficult to improve what you don’t measure. Whether it’s for your own telehealth budgeting and program optimization, or post-grant reporting obligations, it’s important to measure the efficiency of your telehealth program.
Metrics that can help you gauge the success and sustainability of your telehealth program include:
Patient and physician adoption rates
Change in cost of care for providers
Change in cost of care for patients
Change in readmission rates
Change in early intervention treatment rates
Metrics should be adjusted according to your specific telehealth program, use case, and goals.
To avoid the time and cost of hiring a dedicated data scientist, consider using an ingrained software solution that automatically collects and analyzes relevant telehealth data.
VidyoInsights is a performance monitoring system and analytics tool that allows customers to view infrastructure statistics centrally and helps them to understand KPIs of their infrastructure – such as, CPU, memory, threads, disk usage, and more.
Vidyo partner, Ignis Health, offers a Telehealth Resource Program (TRP) that collects data on clinical, financial, and operational aspects of telehealth.
With data presented on intuitive dashboards, administrators can act to rectify inefficiencies, drive revenue, and improve patient outcomes.
All of VidyoHealth’s solutions are HIPAA-compliant, user-friendly, and secure.
A VidyoHealth-equipped telehealth solution brings benefits to a number of care scenarios:
eICU monitoring capabilities to identify early intervention opportunities for the most critical and highest-cost patients.
Virtual rounding for in-patient care to preserve PPE and protect staff tending to infectious patients.
Virtual visitation to connect isolated patients to their families, loved ones, and support networks.
Virtual visits and consultations to extend access to care across a wider geographical area and provide access to experts that are not on-site.
Multidisciplinary care, or coordinated care, to bring medical professionals of different disciplines together virtually to design comprehensive treatment plans for patients.
Telehealth is quickly becoming a preferred model of care, a catalyst of superior patient outcomes, and a driver of revenue. VidyoHealth is here to help your organization scale and sustain a virtual care program. To learn more, contact a VidyoHealth expert today.
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