The following are highlights from an interview with Angie Howard, Director of EHR Optimization and Provider Experience at Medical Advantage – conducted Tuesday, March 17, 2020 as demands on healthcare providers continued to explode with the fast-growing Coronavirus pandemic.
Q: In the trajectory of what our nation, and healthcare system, is starting to go through right now, when did providers’ need for help with telehealth jump to the forefront?
A: Just last week (March 9 -13) was when the national crisis really burst into the public’s mindset, with a cascade of cancellations throughout the week that grew from political rallies and sporting events, to school closings in various states by midweek, and the closing of public spaces such as bars and restaurants we see now. So those colossal changes in the way we live all happened in less than a week.
By week’s end, we were already working with clients to stage the rapid implementation and optimization of their telehealth capabilities, and by Monday of this week (March 16), we already have practices fully up and running with telehealth as we continue to work with more and more practices and practice groups to implement their telehealth capability immediately.
Q: What makes a robust, functional telehealth capability so desperately needed by practices in this new Coronavirus reality?
A: While telehealth has a spectrum of uses, there are two critical channels in which telehealth must play a role in dealing with the current crisis:
First, it can be an essential tool both in keeping your patients at home, and in reducing the traffic and potential contagion in your offices. Many typical office visits – such as explaining test results, follow-up visits, etc. are ideally done with telehealth rather than in-person office visits.
Second, telehealth can be an invaluable tool in screening potential Coronavirus patients, especially with the current limited access to testing. If someone fears they have the virus, you can guide them in a video call through a symptom check – if they are not currently displaying symptoms you can schedule for another video call, and if they are, and you want to see them in-person, you can schedule them to come at times designated for sick visits, and better separate them from patients who need to come in for well visits.
Both of these uses of telehealth can help to slow the spread of this pandemic.
Q: You mentioned that just in the past few days since the Coronavirus crisis really exploded onto the scene, you already have practices up and running with telehealth that were not before. That seems like a short turnaround for standing up telehealth.
A: Well, it has to be, in this current situation, for all of us. Yes, with one practice in Michigan, we literally got on the phone at 7:30am to help them activate their telehealth capability, and by 8:30am they were ready to roll out outreach to their patients to urge those patients to shift to telehealth rather than office visits. It was a small practice, but in the first day they got 89% of their patients to migrate to their telehealth services.
At a larger practice, with 400 providers in Miami, they called us yesterday; we’ve been helping them get their telehealth system up to speed, and writing all the procedures for their staff. Today we’re on standby for further training of providers and staff. So that 400 provider practice, that’s about a day and a half, or 12 working hours, for us to get them all ready to go.
Q: Earlier you said you can help practices “implement their telehealth capability.” Does that mean many practices have a telehealth capability that they have simply never operationalized?
A: Yes, that’s part of the good news; most EHRs being used in practices today have either telehealth modules within them, integrated third-party telehealth platforms, or the ability to interface with outboard telehealth platforms.
For example, eClinicalWorks® has its TeleVisits module, the NextGen® EHR has its integrated OTTO Telehealth platform, and Epic® MyChart has video visits directly available through American Well’s Telehealth Clinical app.
The other part of the good news is, that’s exactly what my team at Medical Advantage specializes in – optimization, customization, training, and enhancing the usability and effectiveness of EHR systems in the practice environment.
Thank you, Angie – I’m sure we’ll be coming to you for more insight in the weeks and months ahead.