While telemedicine has been used to some degree in the past, the coronavirus has made remote medical care a must in the healthcare industry — and this reliance will not go away when the pandemic is finally behind us. In our previous articles, Lineate has explained the need for increased telehealth and the changes to federal and state regulations, and the potential roadblocks to scaling useful telemedicine practices. This article will focus on just the positives — the benefits of telemedicine and the already-available solutions to getting telemedicine up and running in medical practices around the US.
The Benefits of Telemedicine
The immediate benefit of telemedicine is obvious — it allows patients to continue to receive medical care while keeping up social distancing practices and lessening the risk to coronavirus exposure in compliance with federal guidelines. In short, it helps keep people alive and well.
That should be enough to encourage healthcare workers to practice telemedicine, but there are other benefits as well, including:
- Doctors used to make home visits. This is a return to practice, with patients receiving care from the comfort of their own home. No more hectic drives. No more long waits in reception. No more running late. Patients should be more at ease, and doctors can practice with a literal bed-side manner. Providing previously unavailable healthcare to underserved communities — especially in rural areas, where doctors are few and far between.
- Increasing access to specialists, better matching patients to those that can care for their specific needs.
- Improved chronic care: With home monitoring equipment, medical professionals can check on blood pressure, oxygen levels, and other vital stats, reducing readmission rates to hospitals and urgent care facilities.
- Because telemedicine is so convenient (and often less expensive), patients will check in with their doctors more often, creating a healthier population, better patient retention, and a booming heathcare business.
The Solutions to Telemedicine Issues
Like all new practices, there may be some growing pains as telemedicine ramps up. One of the main roadblocks to telemedicine being used broadly was restrictive or confusing government regulations — but because of the extreme need for telemedicine due to COVID-19, the government has passed the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act which essentially opens the floodgates for widespread telemedicine use.
Other potential stumbling blocks lie ahead, but fear not! Setting up a working telemedicine practice is easier than it seems, with the following solutions available
The Issue: Inter-Office Communication
Coordination with other medical offices was often a hassle even before the need for telemedicine, but now that patients can have telehealth calls with any doctor, regardless of prior patient-doctor relationships, there is worry that relevant patient information may not be easy to share between offices.
An online system can be set up for patients to share what services they have received in the past, from other medical facilities. This system can then automate requests for patient documents and create a network for easy communication between medical practices.
The Issue: Privacy and Security
The Telemedicine services are convenient, but they can cause headaches with security and privacy matters. Information is no longer communicated in the privacy of a room and medical staff must take care to keep doctor/patient privilege confidential.
HIPAA’s privacy and security policies require that the information gathered through a telemedicine service needs to be encrypted and through a secure connection. Online services can be created to inform patients of your policy on the recording and storing of video calls, and give the option of gaining consent. And medical professionals can also create a safe, encrypted channel for sharing medical records between medical practices.
The Issue: Reimbursement
Getting reimbursed for telemedicine services was problematic for doctors and other medical providers. Before the pandemic, Medicare offered some telemedicine reimbursement coverage, but with limitations. Furthermore, telemedicine is not always covered by private insurance and reimbursement policies often depended on state laws. With interstate licencing set aside during the pandemic, inter-state payments can be even more confusing.
According to the CMS, “for the duration of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency, Medicare will make payment for professional services furnished to beneficiaries in all areas of the country in all settings” and provides “flexibility for healthcare providers to reduce or waive cost-sharing for telehealth visits paid by federal healthcare programs.” That’s obviously good news.
As for other reimbursement obstacles, an online system can be created to track reimbursement claims. This system can keep track of expenses and services, while keep a living database on insurers’ allowable reimbursements.
The Issue: Ease of Use and Service Messaging
Any new technology will have a learning curve, and this gets compounded in telemedicine, where both the physician and the patient need to know how to communicate remotely. Furthermore, many patients may not know how that their doctor has telehealth services and how to access it.
With a custom technology platform built to a medical office’s specific needs, UX can be intuitive and easy-to-use. Of course, that doesn’t mean every patient will get how to use it right away (if you have parents trying to use Zoom for the first time, you know exactly what I mean…), but targeted messaging that explains how the technology works, can easily be sent using predictive analytics, reaching folks who need help at the right time, in the right way.
Using this same outreach system, patients can also be made aware of the new telemedicine service, and how to arrange a remote visit. Further outreach can raise awareness to telemedicine services outside of your patient clientele, finding more people that need medical assistance.
How Lineate Can Help
Lineate knows that times are tough, and we are doing what we can to help medical professionals and the people they serve. With over a decade of experience working within the complex eco-system of healthcare, our team can expertly manage the changing ways doctors are communicating with their patients, all while navigating inter-office communication, security, payments, and messaging. We are ready to help the healthcare industry transition into the world of telemedicine. Reach out to our tech solution expert today.