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The New Normal – Diagnosing the Benefits of TeleHealth

TeleHealth, or TeleMedicine, has become a household term this year. Almost overnight, healthcare organizations have had to adapt to TeleHealth in order to serve their population and generate revenue.  How did we come so far, so fast—and where else will this technology take us? While TeleHealth as a medical practice is still very much evolving, this blog should help you start to navigate the TeleHealth revolution and its potential.

Nobody saw the public health enemy coming… even though we’ve suffered viral outbreaks in the past, such as H1N1, SARs, and Ebola. Many like me carelessly believed that it couldn’t happen here! Not in America, we have the best health systems. Then COVID-19 hit the US, forcing Congress to pass the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act on March 6, 2020.  President Trump declared a national emergency under the Stafford Act just one week later on March 13, 2020. This was meant to lay the groundwork for states to declare their own emergency and to provide funding so every American could get tested and provided treatment for COVID-19. But the BIGGEST change came on March 17th, when Health and Human Services allowed organizations to be reimbursed for TeleHealth services typically not covered.

This was fantastic news for a struggling industry. You see, where some cities had very high coronavirus infections, most others had to stop discretionary procedures. This had a huge impact on healthcare providers throughout the entire country, many reporting losses in the millions or billions of dollars. TeleHealth became a glimmer of hope for both hospitals and patients in that they could now continue to serve their patients and garner much-needed revenue. That’s the good part of the journey.

The next few steps were very challenging for the American health care system. Hospitals needed to adapt to remote work overnight. This started with the purchase of thousands of laptops, headsets, and cameras to deploy TeleHealth rapidly. Some went with well-known, yet expensive, TeleMedicine platforms like TeleDoc or AmericaWell. Others chose commercially available solutions such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and the like. These were relatively easy to deploy, and most patients could navigate the applications. All caregivers were given the instruction to maintain the same professionalism as if they were in the clinic.

The next challenge was actually billing for the visits—and we know billing is no easy task.  Some organizations had to provide TeleHealth for free for up to two months before they could learn to capture the revenue cycle.  So now we are doing TeleHealth, right? Yes, but not so fast.

Healthcare found it very challenging to have an effective and sustainable TeleHealth practice. First, they needed to protect new remote workers. These workers are being targeted by ransomware groups and others because they’re new to remote work.  Ransomware increased 350% in Q4 of 2019 alone, preying on hospital workers and new entry points into healthcare systems. You see, they know people are more willing to pay when in crisis. Healthcare systems are also being targeted by at least three known state-sponsored hackers with the sole task of stealing data, formularies, treatments, and vaccines.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requires we protect Protected Health Information (PHI) at all times, and in all forms.  There are also challenges around treatment protocols. How can we ensure every caregiver is following documented protocol for treatment? Healthcare is financially motivated to follow quality protocols and measures.  Training can go very far, but how can it be measured? Complicating the situation further was the continuously changing guidance from the CDC, the WHO, and state medical boards. An approved treatment in March was no longer approved in April, and so forth.  Some guidelines actually changed only to be changed back. All of this was taking place while illness spread or lives were lost. Without any concern for politics or authorities, how could a healthcare professional practice approved medicine and protect themselves and their organizations? How do you keep medical professionals aware of new guidance while being bombarded with patients on the front lines?

A primary concern for hospitals is patient satisfaction via HCAP scores reflecting overall patient approval.  How can healthcare organizations provide a positive experience with this new form of care? The final big challenge is physician burnout and productivity. Caregivers report spending half their time documenting engagements and only half the time providing patient care. Our heroes fighting the worst pandemic of this generation are overloaded with paperwork (or EMR work as the case is today) rather than prioritizing the health of their patients.

For many healthcare organizations, this is the current state of TeleMedicine. We are doing it, getting some revenue from it, and it works. And leading organizations are looking even further. Fifteen of the top fifteen healthcare systems report TeleMedicine and remote care is the way of the future.

So how do we make it sustainable? I’m glad you asked… 😊

Now that TeleHealth is implemented, time to make it compliant, sustainable, and scalable to meet future needs. Large healthcare systems are reporting they do more than 47,000 TeleHealth visits PER DAY! That’s a lot of resources and even more data. Now we’re starting to see TeleHealth for what it really is—the most comprehensive capture of the entire patient-physician relationship. Using modern-day technology, we can harness that information. We’re not talking about data within the structured EMR. We’re talking every question and every answer—the whole enchilada. The potential is enormous.

Organizations can now learn from their entire practice to identify trends, effective treatments, and early risks. Forward-thinking organizations are also putting in controls to supervise TeleHealth to ensure security, compliance, and patient satisfaction. Technology has even advanced so far, much of this task can be automated so only “bad” encounters are reviewed and addressed. That same technology can facilitate the documentation needs of physicians, so they do what they do best—take care of patients. This is an incredible benefit to our overworked heroes, but also to the healthcare systems. Automating billing can easily double the number of patients seen and double the revenue for the system.

Given these challenges—and opportunities—companies like Veritas are stepping up to help make TeleHealth possible. Leveraging digital compliance solutions, providers can target the three biggest data challenges—visibility, retention, and action. These solutions allow organizations to tap into the “new normal,” capitalizing, and protecting data holistically. Powerful data classification tools streamline data sorting and tagging for future use to pinpoint information in record time. Sensitive classification policies allow organizations to locate, archive and organize any data. Healthcare providers can now have confidence that all HIPAA controls are extended across every communication source.

As a result, data can be leveraged across healthcare infrastructures to derive greater value, enabling organizations to:

  • Monitor quality, adhere to protocols and safety measures, and gauge patient satisfaction
  • Illuminate data concerning doctor-patient interactions via business intelligence
  • Track telemedicine visits, ensuring they’re captured correctly in medical records
  • Capture the proper revenue for each and every telemedicine visit.

I’m looking forward to further TeleHealth adoption. Veritas will continue to work with providers to understand their challenges and develop strategies to leverage this exciting new care method. Many things are on the horizon, such as automatic patient sentiment analysis (was this patient satisfied or angry?) and understanding (did the patient tell me the truth about the symptoms?). I look forward to experiencing these changes and seeing how proper data management and analysis helps lead to better patient care.