This article was originally published in October 2020 but was updated in June 2022.
Healthcare providers have been steadily increasing their use of telehealth over the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic served as a catalyst for the rapid adoption of this technology, and it’s here to stay. One McKinsey survey found more than 80% of physicians are offering virtual care services — up from just 13% in 2019 — and nearly all consumers surveyed have used telehealth services at some point during the pandemic.
This sudden spike in demand meant practices needed to quickly adapt to new workflows, technology, and training. However, this is leading many to question whether these swiftly developed telehealth programs will be sustainable in the years to come.
Virtual care is here to stay, so it’s important that healthcare practices are evaluating telehealth programs to ensure they can scale and adapt to the rapidly changing healthcare landscape.
Rapid Adoption of Telehealth Can Lead to Mistakes — Be Aware of Telehealth Challenges and Opportunities
Choosing the right technology and solution for your practice’s telehealth program requires a lot of research, evaluation, and training. When the pandemic hit, many health care providers didn’t have the luxury of time to do all this work. Becker’s ASC Review noted that while it usually takes months or years to deploy a customized telehealth platform, organizations needed to pivot their strategies to virtual care in mere weeks.
Large and small healthcare practices did an amazing job at adapting to this short time frame to integrate new digital technologies into existing infrastructures. While quickly offering telehealth helped patients safely connect with a physician during the pandemic (especially those who are immunocompromised), there are drawbacks to this method.
The publication reported that many practices were using 20 or more different telemedicine services due to physicians and even individual departments adopting various platforms. They often chose a vendor or platform based on one of two factors — low price or quick deployment — but failed to account for security or ease of use. These disjointed systems meant patient data was still siloed and, in the long run, that could lead to increased overhead costs and inconsistent patient experiences.
If your practice had to adapt to telehealth fast during the pandemic, it’s time to reevaluate your system to ensure it’s integrated and comprehensive.
Virtual Care Is More Than Telemedicine Video Visits
It’s easy to fall under the initial impression that a platform for telehealth video consultations is all a healthcare facility needs in order to conduct virtual care, but that is a shortsighted view. It is a great solution to address immediate needs when COVID initially hit, but it is not a solution for every application in the innovative healthcare delivery models used today and moving forward.
Audio and video applications only are a great foundation for telehealth, but they are by no means the only tools needed for a sustainable virtual care model. Healthcare professionals need to be able to scale up from simply doing telemedicine video visits to a platform that allows them to address more use cases and clinical modalities. For instance, while videoconferencing tools are ideal for general follow-up or behavioral health visits, there is no way for a physician to complete a clinical evaluation that would help them make a diagnosis or recommend further care.
A sustainable and scalable virtual care model must incorporate videoconferencing simultaneously with integrated medical devices and documentation that can be saved into a practice’s EMR. These tools not only help physicians perform more care functions from a distance, but also they can easily be scaled up (or down) as the business needs of the practice change.
Creating a telehealth program for tomorrow, today
When time is of the essence to roll out a telehealth program, it’s important to still be strategic in how you choose a technology vendor and partner. While deploying and managing a system falls under your organization’s responsibility, you want a technology partner that you can trust to help you through the entire process. Additionally, a system should never be chosen solely based on price or deployment speed. Even under a time crunch, other elements of the solution should be considered:
- Scalability: Will the technology solution be able to grow with the business needs of your practice?
- Flexibility: Can the system be easily pivoted to accommodate different functions and specialties when needed?
- Training: How easy and how often will staff need to be retrained with the system?
- Security: Is the vendor staying on top of HIPAA requirements, offering business associate agreements, and incorporating new security/encryption measures into the system?
- Accessibility: Can patients easily use the system? Do they need to download an app, and what information must they provide?
AMD Global Telemedicine delivers telemedicine and telehealth solutions that accommodate the immediate needs of patients and practices today and adapt to the innovative healthcare delivery models of the future. Contact our team today to begin learning about our personalized systems that seamlessly connect patients with remote healthcare providers regardless of location, circumstance, or time.