By Colin Theseira, senior director of operations and technology at Brother International Corporation’s OmniJoin Division
Change can come slowly in healthcare, especially when embracing technology. For an example, look no further than telehealth. A web camera, high-speed internet connection and secure web browser are the three essential technological elements needed to deliver high-quality care over the Internet and all three have been widely available for more than a decade.
In telehealth’s case, slow provider adoption seems to have been caused by a lack of reimbursement available from payers, including state governments. The good news is that states may be finally catching on to telemedicine’s value. For example, 48 states and the District of Columbia now reimburse for video visits in Medicaid fee-for-service programs. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, there are parity laws that cover private insurers and reimbursement for telemedicine services, while more than 150 telehealth-related pieces of legislation concerning payment and other issues have been introduced this year.
Now that states are warming up to telehealth, it may be time for providers to consider supplementing their revenue and meeting patient access demands by offering care through video conferencing technology. Not only can telehealth help increase revenue, it can also help patients stay adherent to treatment plans and potentially lower costs and improve outcomes.
Consumer demand rising
Providers do not need to worry if their patients would be interested receiving care through telehealth. As many as 15 million Americans accessed telehealth services in 2015, up 50 percent since 2013. Another survey of tele-health patients said they used the services as often as four times in a year.
Through telehealth, providers can address the roughly 75 percent of office visits that are unnecessary or do not need to be in-person. These telehealth visits can especially be useful for the preventive, chronic-condition management visits where clinicians primarily interview patients, answer questions and help them overcome obstacles to treatment plan adherence.
Simple, secure technology is available
While the essential elements to effectively deliver telehealth have been available for more than a decade, the technology in that time has nonetheless improved in several areas. Perhaps the most important enhancement over the years has been in data security. Using 256-bit end-to-end encryption is not only important for protecting the privacy of patient information, encryption is also required as part of the HIPAA Security Rule. Most commercial browsers offer this level of protection for secure connections and are easily accessible to both providers and patients.
Also in the last decade, healthcare organizations have realized the cost-savings and efficiency of transferring mission-critical applications to the cloud. Cloud-based platforms are ideal for telehealth, allowing physicians to deliver care from wherever they have a reliable internet connection.
For patients, the most tangible technological improvement concerning telehealth is likely the high-definition video and audio that can help establish a greater level of intimacy between provider and patient to closely simulate a clinical setting. After all, while performance and adequate reimbursement are crucial to providers for delivering telehealth, the importance of the patient experience cannot be overstated.
With a positive experience, patients will be more likely to frequently access telehealth services and adhere to their treatment plan resulting in more positive outcomes.