Transforming Telehealth Access: A Quick Guide
Some of the deficiencies that exist within healthcare have been revealed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing an abrupt shift in how healthcare delivery models meet the needs of patients, staff, and communities. As the pandemic continues to limit in-person care, the adoption of telehealth has shown to be a valid long-term solution to be used long after public health orders are lifted.
Before the pandemic, telehealth utilization was relatively low. However, there has been a growing interest in convenient healthcare options for patients, with some healthcare organizations looking to permanently adopt this form of care after the pandemic.
While continued use of telehealth software comes with some challenges, such as lack of access to technology among lower socioeconomic and rural patients, connectivity to telemedicine platforms, and regulatory compliance and reimbursement, these are hurdles that can likely be overcome.
Continued widespread use of telehealth beyond Covid-19 allows us to address these challenges head-on and could lead to a sustainable care model that works for all.
The Benefits Of Telehealth
Not only has the pandemic made telehealth extremely effective at preserving personal protective equipment (PPE) and limiting contact with patients, but it increases access to care when in-person visits are not feasible. This is especially beneficial for lower socioeconomic communities and rural areas where patients lacked access to healthcare before the pandemic.
Crossing The Digital Divide
The technology required for telehealth to work highlights the digital divide as a barrier to healthcare. Despite technological advances, 19 million Americans still lack access to broadband internet. To address the digital divide, low-cost devices should be available or given out to qualifying patients for free so that patients can more easily receive the care they need. Patients with limited access to technology and connectivity should be offered an alternative, non-video options such as phone calls when video consultation is not feasible.
Telemedicine inpatient care is especially important as anesthesiology models have emerged about transitional pain care. The Drug Enforcement Agency modified its policies in response to the pandemic, allowing for the remote prescription of controlled substances and now online counseling, informed consent, and even follow-up care about medication can be completed virtually.
Training medical professionals to utilize telemedicine more frequently can also help sustain the model. In states across the country, health organizations are using Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes), a videoconferencing application that trains and engages healthcare providers in managing and treating complex Covid-19 patients. Communicating telehealth, telemedicine, and nurse advice services as an option for patients, even after the pandemic ends, should be a priority. Guided-practice models like ECHO can help reduce health disparities in underserved and remote communities that lack access to care.
Coping With Accessibility Challenges
Among physicians, concerns about compliance with the rigorous Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is one of the challenges with telehealth. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has made exceptions for HIPPA-covered healthcare providers to use remote communication technologies — including FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, or Google Hangouts — for telehealth services even if they do not comply with HIPAA rules. Additionally, waivers have been put in place during the pandemic to make care easily accessible for patients, especially individuals enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
About 18.1% of the American population receives Medicare and recipients are age 65-plus. Patients who are elderly may be slow to adopt new technologies and may require training to access and accept the telehealthcare model. Organizations like Florida-based non-profit,
Telehealth for Seniors, provide seniors and low-income communities with devices, instruction, and tech support to make telehealth easier for older patients. This patient resource has been utilized by healthcare organizations in 26 states and serves as a starting point to build on post-pandemic.
The Future Of Telehealth
To make telemedicine more sustainable and lasting in the post-Covid era, we need fewer regulations and better payment systems. As it currently exists, telehealth services have poor reimbursement connectivity to telemedicine platforms. In the past, only a limited number of patients were eligible for telehealth coverage so there was no need for hospitals and other care facilities to invest in the technology needed to improve the process.
To address the deficiencies that exist within healthcare, we must make care accessible for all patients. Telehealth is a convenient option that has helped to allow lower socioeconomic communities and rural areas to receive the healthcare they need, protected physicians, and reduced the risk of Covid-19 transmission.
With a focus on access and improving connectivity, healthcare providers can build a sustainable healthcare model with the help of the best telehealth software that will increase clinical efficiency and promote patient-centered healthcare in a post-pandemic world.