Telemedicine services have successfully overcome patients’ prejudice and doubts that they faced during the pandemic and proved their value as an efficient care delivery model. According to McKinsey, about 76% of patients plan to continue using the service after the pandemic is over. But what about doctors? Are they equally positive about telemedicine? We’ll look into the matter.
Telemedicine acceptance among the pandemic front-liners—nurses and clinicians—became a point of interest for the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition. The coalition unites healthcare providers, health IT vendors, academia, and nonprofit organizations in the effort to shape a strong national response in the critical situation.
In June 2021, the Coalition published their Telemedicine Impact Study reporting that for 75% of the participating clinicians telehealth had helped provide quality care in a multitude of specialties. They managed to deliver quality telemedicine services not only for COVID-19 treatment but also for acute care, chronic conditions, and mental health issues. 60% of the respondents stated telemedicine helped them improve health outcomes.
As we can see, both external analysts and industry practitioners view the technology positively. However, medical professionals admit some telemedicine roadblocks still exist. So what are they?
During the pandemic, insurers’ telemedicine guidelines were changing on the fly. As a result, providers could hardly understand how to bill each insurer. Besides, finding out if coinsurance or deductibles were waived for tele-patients turned out challenging.
Luckily, experts from the Association of Healthcare Internal Auditors have already formulated some tips for making reimbursement process efficient. They recommend creating a matrix featuring insurers and their telemedicine plans and policies, namely:
- Telemedicine coverage
- A list of plans supporting telehealth
- CTP codes and modifiers
- Waivers in action
Such a matrix helps providers set up clear billing plans and a smooth process of telemedicine reimbursement to ensure proper billing for the services rendered. What’s more, providers need to establish continuous monitoring of the developed telehealth workflows and documentation to make sure they stay in compliance with the insurers’ regulations. Otherwise, they may face missed reimbursement or overpayment.
Tech Issues for Patients
Over 64% of the aforementioned Telehealth Impact Study respondents noted that technology challenges hampered telemedicine sustainability for patients. Clinicians cited several tech-related issues, from the lack of broadband connectivity to insufficient digital literacy.
While the former tech aspects can be fixed through large-scale national programs, the latter depends on a medical provider, or better say their readiness to offer telemedicine training for clinicians and patients. But how to run it smoothly? It makes sense to cooperate with the vendor that actually created telemedicine software in use.
Efficient telemedicine training involves three critical elements:
- Clinicians’ training. At first sight, there’s nothing complex about telehealth solutions. Users just need to log in and start a call. However, the practice has shown that virtual care has many specific workflows clinicians should be aware of. For the record, these very workflows are challenging for about a quarter of the Telemedicine Impact Study participants. To ensure thorough training, tech experts recommend going for uploading video lessons for clinicians to study independently. Such a training mode allowed Jefferson Health (Philadelphia, PA) to train hundreds of doctors in only three days.
- Patients’ training. This effort boils down to providing comprehensive user support along the care journey. On the vendor’s side, it’s about making a handy guide available within the app on demand. Health IT experts also recommend creating a helpdesk for removing stumbling blocks during an e-consultation. As for the clinicians, they have to provide personalized outreach before the first e-consultation. This way they can evaluate the patient’s computer literacy and skills and design a suitable communication strategy.
- Cybersecurity tips. As we remember, with the pandemic onset, the CMS waived the potential HIPAA penalties to let providers deliver telehealth consultations via non-compliant messengers, provided that they were “non-public facing”. Such tools let only the intended users communicate within an app.
However, there’s the human factor that shouldn’t be discarded. Using well-known apps for telemedicine may create a false sense of security. In private lives, doctors might download photos and documents that their friends and relatives send via, say, Skype. Offering telemedicine via such apps, they may be tempted to treat a patient’s sensitive health information the same way. Besides, users rarely log out of such apps, so if a device gets lost, sensitive data may be exposed.
To prevent such situations, providers should educate the staff and their patients on basic security measures, such as logging out after an e-visit, avoiding insecure public connections, and more. To improve the security of such tools, providers also need to activate the available encryption and privacy modes.
Fortunately, telemedicine benefits are unanimously recognized by clinicians, nurses, patients, and external analysts, so we can safely conclude telemedicine is here to stay. Though some implementation and access issues persist, IT and industry experts proactively cooperate to draft effective mitigation scenarios. Given the progress, telemedicine can soon become a viable alternative to in-person visits for non-critical health situations, post-discharge follow-ups, and chronic condition management.
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