Most people are surprised to learn telehealth is over a decade old because it didn’t take off until a global pandemic caused a massive paradigm shift in the minds of both consumers and medical providers.
In March, 2020 telehealth visits were up 154 percent over the same timeframe in 2019 and today 46% of patients say they use telehealth for some appointments, compared to just 11 percent in 2019. Additionally, 48 percent of doctors report they have incorporated telehealth into their practice now.
While telemedicine became a necessity during the pandemic, it’s clear that it’s a trend that is here to stay.
During the COVID crisis, people of all ages were forced to turn to technology for everyday necessities like school, work, grocery shopping, and doctor visits. This shift forced people who perhaps hadn’t used platforms like Zoom or Google Meet to become proficient and comfortable in a virtual meeting environment. This adaptation of technology by all generations certainly paved the way for telemedicine to stay.
And it turns out that most patients love the convenience and the time saved when they receive routine care, see specialists, access behavioral health services or engage in physical, speech or occupational therapy from the comfort of home. Telemedicine saved patients over 100 minutes of time and 83 percent of patients indicated they would continue to use virtual visits in a post-COVID world.
The willingness of payers such as Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers to expand coverage for telehealth services during the pandemic has also fueled increased popularity.
Now that telemedicine has proved itself with providers, patients, and insurance companies, what’s next in its evolution?
Important Infrastructure Improvements
In order to effectively offer telemedicine services providers need to have the right technology in place and that starts with solid IT infrastructure. Similar to building a multi-lane highway for vehicles, IT infrastructure needs to be constructed with the capability to promote a seamless flow of bi-directional traffic – in this case, data, software applications, text, and video. This infrastructure must also be able to accommodate and connect any type of mobile or stationary device, anywhere, anytime.
Like massive 18-wheeler rigs hogging lanes on the interstate, video gobbles up huge amounts of internet bandwidth. So embedded telehealth solutions need to be thoughtfully designed to optimize the transfer of multimedia streams between provider and patient in order to be highly effective, support an excellent user experience and help deliver reliable health care outcomes.
Customized Solutions Needed
Since telehealth adoption had been low before the pandemic, most solutions were developed for general use across the health care continuum, as was the case with the first generation or two of electronic health record (EHR) software. But as the number of telehealth users increases and the variety of uses expands, it has become increasingly clear that it’s time to move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach.
Most medical specialties, sub-specialties, and specialty practices have the potential to offer virtual options for at least some components of care, whether it’s a pre-surgical consult, a group counseling session with a psychologist or a physical, occupational or speech therapy session. But just as the latest iterations of EHRs are increasingly tailored to specialized applications, telehealth solutions must be customized to meet the divergent needs of providers and patients.
Bespoke Options Grow
With the growth of telemedicine, new solutions targeting specific specialties are growing. For example, a behavioral health practice wants a telehealth solution that enables psychologists conducting virtual therapy sessions to document in real-time directly into a patient’s EHR and may need the ability to document for multiple patients participating in a group session. Family practitioners need the ability to integrate remote monitoring devices, whether checking blood pressure, temperature or heart rates. Surgeons, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, and chiropractors have their own unique documentation and patient communication requirements, to name just a few other types of practices with varying needs.
In addition to enabling practitioners to examine, engage and treat patients, comprehensive telehealth solutions ideally incorporate the ability to securely collaborate with peer providers or specialists, connect with referral sources and handle billing, payment, scheduling, and other practice management needs. At Raintree Systems, our embedded, customizable and programmable engagement platform is HIPAA-compliant, supporting telehealth, secure email messaging, text notifications, patient clinical questionnaires, and treatment outcomes. Practitioners can interact with individual and multiple patients in a single virtual session and take advantage of a range of tools and supports from screen sharing to virtual reception.
The Future of Medical Care
Pandemic or no pandemic, consumer expectations are likely to make the need to implement telehealth options increasingly commonplace across the health care spectrum.
When surveyed, prospective patients indicated that the most important drivers in their decision to book a virtual visit include how easy the doctor’s technology is to use, strong communication, and easy online scheduling. The same study found that close to 75 percent of people would do a telehealth visit with a provider they have seen before and 50 percent would schedule an initial visit with a new provider.
In today’s fast-changing environment, it’s more critical than ever to make sure your underlying IT infrastructure is up to speed and your telehealth solution is customized to your specific needs. That way, your practice can maximize care delivery flexibility and satisfaction for patients and providers, while also optimizing care outcomes, affordability, and efficiency.
About Terrence Sims
Terrence Sims is a career healthcare technology and operations executive with more nearly 30 years of senior leadership experience in both early-stage and Fortune 500 environments. Terrence joined Raintree in 2007 as Chief Operating Officer and currently serves as the President of Strategic Growth & Marketing.