By: Smita Sahay on August 18, 2020 | Way to Goal, LLC
The COVID-19 pandemic has revolutionized how we think about medicine in a matter of six short months. Due to social distancing measures, digital patient care – a phenomenon most popularly known now as telehealth – has become a large-scale method for healthcare professionals to provide care for their patients while effectively decreasing the risk of spreading illness. After conducting an in-depth study among US physicians of their attitudes regarding telehealth, we learned that the implementation of telehealth encompasses many decisions surrounding technology, compliance, and communication, among many other factors. Below, we will explore each of these in a little more depth.
Choosing the appropriate telehealth platform has proven to be challenging for most medical facilities. Adoption of the ideal technology is different across various specialties; however, once a technology is chosen, all facilities must set up their equipment and test it. The latter component is a continuous trial-and-error process that is still being perfected. The top evaluation criteria also differ across individual facilities, but our study found that most providers agree on the top three criteria for choosing one platform over its competitors: reliability and cost-effectiveness, ease of use, especially for patients, and HIPAA compliance. This is interesting because even though the US Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights will not penalize physicians for non-compliance with HIPAA during the COVID-19 pandemic declaration, physicians still consider security an important criterion when choosing a platform. These criteria further explain and contribute to the evolution of telehealth technology towards platforms compliant with EHR systems.
When conducting telehealth, compliance is another important consideration. Physicians conducting telehealth are obliged to maintain the same documentation and standard of care that would apply if they provided the service in person. Due to these obligations, we found that many physicians have been optimizing their creativity and finding new avenues to empower patients virtually. By talking patients through self-evaluations or educating them on measuring vitals and recording this information, physicians are following compliance regulations and allowing documentation to stay up-to-date.
Lastly, healthcare professionals who inform patients about telehealth capabilities once they are in place allow hospitals and practices to determine which patient populations these services could be offered to and for which illnesses. Patients are alerted of this new visit option via office staff when patients call for appointments, posts and flyers throughout the practice and surrounding areas, and/or announcements on websites. In our study, we found that once patients were made aware of telehealth options, they opted to reschedule their initially cancelled appointments. Many physicians reported being surprised by the high volume of rescheduled appointments and recognized the numerous benefits that telehealth could provide for their patients.
Telehealth has undoubtedly become a large-scale method of providing care during these unprecedented times. Appropriate telehealth requires action on both the patients and providers. Knowing the equipment, creating a professional space, and communicating effectively are only some of the standards that make telehealth a true possibility. To learn more, read our full study, “PERFECTLY VIRTUAL: Telehealth for COVID-19 and Beyond” to find more details and become educated on modern medical care during this rapidly evolving climate.