Telehealth's time has come, and it's now proving just how invaluable it can be for both patients and health systems. Patients can get screened for symptoms without risking infection or possibly infecting others. At-risk patients who can't leave their homes but need to manage their chronic illnesses can still see their doctors.
Using telehealth visits, health systems can reduce infection risk for their workers while optimizing efficiency and lessening the stress of dealing with emergent cases while juggling the needs of other patients. Doctors in quarantine can continue to see their patients so that they are not adding to the caseload of other providers who may already be over-burdened.
In the current crisis, patients are likely to be far more willing to try telehealth for the first time, which could spur future adoption as well. Once patients realize the benefits of telehealth visits—convenience, safety, continuity of care, and more—they'll be more likely to embrace the technology going forward even if they no longer need to practice physical distancing and avoid infection risk.
Broadening the adoption of telehealth
The federal government is helping to encourage the use of telehealth during the crisis and beyond. According to an article in mHealth Intelligence, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act (HR 748) contains telehealth provisions that include guidelines for Medicare coverage and new allowances for connected health at federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), rural health clinics (RHCs) and hospices.
The act also reauthorizes the Health and Resource Service Administration's Telehealth Resource Center grant programs at $29 million a year through 2025, supports expanded broadband services, encourages remote patient monitoring for home health services in Medicare, and funds new telehealth initiatives for the Indian Health Services and Department of Veterans Affairs.
Seeing the value of telehealth beyond the crisis
In general, telehealth visits are well-suited for appointments focused on medication refills, minor urgent care, follow-up for chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, mental health, lab results, post-op, and more. Worried about a rash? Patients can seek advice without having to deal with a trip to urgent care.
In an article in Medical Economics, Dr. James Powell, chief medical officer and interim CEO at Long Island Select Healthcare, explains how his health system uses telehealth visits for patients in non-crisis times. "Video lets us see our patient's expressions and body language, as well as hear what they or their caregiver has to say, which makes it possible to assess, diagnose and treat many conditions," he says. "Fortunately, when patients have a successful visit from the comfort of their own home, they love it and are motivated to do more."
Improving patient access to telehealth
Before the crisis, many health systems weren't as far along in their telehealth usage as Long Island Select Healthcare. For many providers, patients may not even know that telehealth is an option available to them when they schedule an appointment.
To nurture adoption now and down the road as the crisis eases, providers need to make it convenient and easy for patients to schedule telehealth appointments. This means offering telehealth visits within an online, self-scheduling experience and via live voice scheduling for those consumers who prefer scheduling by phone. A virtual triage capability can help guide patients to the right provider in the right venue, which can be a telehealth visit.
Stericycle Communication Solutions has been helping its clients rapidly shift to a telehealth option for their patients. Stericycle Intelligent Scheduling gives your patients the ability to schedule telehealth visits online or by phone with a patient advocate. After the appointment is scheduled, Stericycle Communication & Reminders makes sure that patients are prepared and on time for their telehealth visit by sending appointment reminders and visit instructions and offering pre-visit support for telehealth technology readiness.
Making it easier and more convenient for patients to gain access to telehealth services and schedule appointments for virtual visits can create lasting benefits for your health system as your operations return to a more normal situation.
To learn more about telehealth and the best practices you shouldn't overlook when creating your virtual patient care strategy, download our latest eBook.