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The top five myths of telehealth

Given telehealth is radically changing how healthcare leaders imagine care delivery, there are a lot of preconceived notions about what works, and what doesn’t.
By Danielle Russella
08:51 AM
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I spend a lot of time on the road speaking with current and prospective healthcare partners about their vision for telehealth. Given telehealth is radically changing how healthcare leaders imagine care delivery, there are a lot of preconceived notions about what works, and what doesn’t. I’m here to debunk some of the more popular beliefs about telehealth that may come up as your organization evaluates a future-proof telehealth strategy, and help separate fact from fiction.

Myth 1: Telehealth is just about urgent care.

In a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll, 60 percent of consumers interested in telehealth said they’d like to see a doctor online for help managing a chronic condition. We expect consumer interest in telehealth-enabled chronic care to skyrocket as more health systems make it a part of their treatment model. The good news is – many of them already are incorporating telehealth into specialty care, chronic care and follow-up care programs. For example, Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin is utilizing video telehealth to help manage their diabetic patient population through medication counseling, obesity counseling for at-risk youth and monitoring blood sugar appropriately.

It’s important to note that while initial adoption of telehealth platforms by health systems and health plans has been primarily focused on urgent care, it’s likely only to be a small part of the future of telehealth, and it’s not where you’ll see the big savings and ROI. Urgent care is still important to patients but in ways it is a means to an end – of getting patients (and providers) comfortable with the technology and then building on that to develop telehealth programs or products for an organization and its communities’ most pressing care needs.

Myth 2: You can’t conduct a thorough examination of a patient with telehealth.

In its early days, telemedicine was primarily a phone-based interaction between a patient and a provider. As smartphone technology evolved so too did the ability to conduct synchronous video visits, face-to-face, via video on mobile. Video telehealth alone creates a far more intimate interaction between patient and provider to perform an examination.

However, this interaction is still sometimes hampered by the inability to access key vitals such as temperature, blood pressure or images of the heart, lungs and inner ear. But this is changing – and fast. Emerging at-home device makers such as Tyto Care have created incredible technologies that greatly complement video telehealth by enabling the patient to conduct more thorough at-home examinations, immediately, and have that information directly synced with their video telehealth solution. By performing this more robust evaluation, we are able to greatly expand the amount and type of healthcare services that can be delivered at home.

Myth 3: It’s best to wait until telehealth is reimbursed before implementing it.

As my colleague Roy Schoenberg notes in his post on telehealth predictions, the ability to attain reimbursement is improving every day. At the same time, providers cannot afford to wait for reimbursement to deploy their telehealth strategy. Why? Because consumers are already savvy to the advantages of telehealth for themselves and their families and are even willing to go so far as to switch doctors for it. Providers need to have a telehealth offering in order to keep current patients, and engage new patients seeking primary care providers who could become potential lifetime customers.

Many organizations have built telehealth programs that focus on risk-based contracts, bundled payments or attaining new access fees. These programs reduce or remove the reimbursement risk while providing patients a valuable service.

Further, because payment is evolving rapidly, you’re more likely to be able to negotiate for parity or greater payment for your work if you’re already seeing results in practice. Physician organizations have greater bargaining power when they can point to better health outcomes already delivered through telehealth.

Myth 4: We can just get telehealth through our EMR vendor.

It’s tempting for health systems to say, well we already have a highly integrated electronic medical record system that our doctors use every day – why not just use their telehealth product? However, this is not the best approach and will not help your system generate the new streams of revenue that consumer-facing telehealth systems are fundamentally designed to do. A sophisticated telehealth platform is geared to attract new patients – new customers – and engage current patients, whereas the EMR is really about managing known patients. As one example, telehealth systems are built to deliver on-demand and scheduled visits, whereas the EMR is just scheduled.

Further, EMR vendors do not understand the consumer. Their offerings typically fail the usability test with patients and are not available on common electronic devices. The result is a poor experience and lack of utilization.

The good news is that leading EMR vendors are delivering seamless integration with key telehealth players that will make the preferable option of selecting a new telehealth system much easier. With robust, out-of-the-box EMR-telehealth integration, healthcare leaders can ensure the patient’s journey is captured all in one place – no matter if visits are conducted in person or through telehealth.  

Myth 5: Telehealth utilizes too many IT resources

While an understandable concern – particularly for CIOs and IT managers – unlike other health IT, telehealth technology is advancing so quickly that it is in fact possible to make telehealth an integrated part of your IT structure in days or weeks. How? New APIs and software development kits (SDKs) allow healthcare organizations to essentially embed telehealth into current services and apps, freeing up resources that would typically be tasked to manage these implementations with more effort. With a telehealth mobile SDK, for example, a highly regarded healthcare brand such as New York-Presbyterian is able to embed telehealth visits into their existing digital health patient service, and have it up and running in weeks.

Additionally, most telehealth companies with sophisticated platform technology will provide professional and implementation services professionals – with years of experience – who can step in and manage the process for you. The IT component tends to be less important than medical staff training and engagement, as telehealth becomes the newest arm of your care delivery model.

These topics are likely to come up at HIMSS17 and I’m very much looking forward to continuing to drive the conversation forward as we all, collectively, push aside the roadblocks between providers and patients in making care more connected than ever before.

About the Author:

Danielle Russella, President, Customer Solutions, American Well

 

Topics: 
Telehealth