What is Telehealth and How Does It Work?
During the global pandemic, many schools and businesses pivoted to a virtual environment. What was supposed to be a temporary solution became not only the norm, but a preference for many.
The same has proven true in healthcare, for both patients and providers. Virtual healthcare, or telehealth, has gained widespread acceptance and has transformed healthcare in the U.S.
According to a Neurology study, clinicians considered telemedicine to be satisfactory in 93% of encounters and 89% suggested that telemedicine is a viable option for follow-up care. This is powerful evidence that telehealth expansion will continue in the foreseeable future.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth is a form of healthcare where patients communicate with their providers online instead of during an in-person office visit. Visits require internet access and a device such as a computer, tablet, or smartphone. During a telehealth visit, patients can expect to talk to their provider live over the phone or via video chat.
Due to COVID-19, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) changed HIPAA rules to allow greater access to telehealth. This means that popular platforms that were once reserved for personal use are now involved in telehealth.
Of course, only non-public facing applications that allow only the intended parties to communicate can be used for compliant telehealth. Examples of public-facing video streaming include Facebook Live and Twitch.
Currently, healthcare providers are allowed to use the following video chat applications:
- Apple FaceTime
- Google Hangouts video
- Facebook Messenger video chat
For text-based messaging, the following applications are also allowed under HIPAA:
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Hangouts
The following vendors have indicated that they can provide HIPAA compliant service, but providers should be sure to vet any vendors prior to contracting with them for telehealth purposes.
- Skype for Business / Microsoft Teams
- Zoom for Healthcare
- Google G Suite Hangouts Meet
- Cisco Webex Meetings / Webex Teams
- Amazon Chime
- Spruce Health Care Messenger
How Telehealth Can Benefit Patient Populations
It is not surprising that an MDPIstudy revealed that 85% of patients who receive telemedicine services are satisfied with their medical care. After all, the benefits of telehealth for patients are plentiful. In a telehealth competitive landscape, patients will likely help drive adoption of remote services for the following reasons:
Convenience: Patients can attend appointments from any location as long as they have internet access. This is especially important for the elderly or patients who have limited mobility, as well as individuals who lack access to transportation. For rural patients, telehealth can reduce the expense and inconvenience of long commutes to access healthcare.
Chronic conditions management: For those with chronic illnesses or chronic pain, regular ongoing appointments can be both difficult and unmanageable. Telehealth makes it much easier for at-risk patients to meet with their providers.
Infectious disease control: We have learned a lot of lessons from COVID-19, and the importance of containing the spread of disease is arguably the most important. For those who have immunodeficiencies and need to connect with a provider, telehealth can provide safe access to vital healthcare.
Quality of care: In the doctor’s office, providers can only assess the patient. With telehealth, care providers can see the patient’s physical environment and look for potential health or safety hazards and find clues regarding mental health issues.
Family involvement: For those who have family members who are elderly or facing mental health problems, telehealth enables them to attend visits and engage in that family member’s care – even from a long distance away.
Cost savings: Telehealth saves not only on transportation costs, but also on the cost of urgent care or other types of visits. One study suggests that telehealth saves patients as much as $120 per visit.
How is Telehealth Used in Healthcare?
While telehealth cannot replace all in-office visits, it can significantly reduce the need for them. According to HHS, telehealth is ideal for the following types of care:
- Lab test or x-ray results
- Mental health treatment, including online therapy, counseling, and medication management
- Recurring conditions like migraines or urinary tract infections
- Skin conditions
- Prescription management
- Urgent care issues like colds, coughs, and stomach aches
- Post-surgical follow-up
- Treatment and follow-up appointments for ADD/ADHD
- Physical therapy and occupational therapy
- Remote monitoring services that track health goals and monitor chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol
How Practices Can Use Telehealth for Geographic Expansion
Telehealth clearly has substantial benefits for patients, but it also presents unique opportunities for providers who wish to expand their practice and retain existing patients. However, providers who wish to expand their practice geographically will need to have a solid telehealth business plan.
Remote healthcare gives providers the ability to provide care across state lines as well as internationally. Plus, if existing patients relocate and wish to keep their current provider, telehealth gives them that option as well. Examples and Types of Telehealth
The telehealth definition is often only associated with virtual care by video feed; however, there are actually four different types of telehealth:
- Synchronous (Live) Telehealth: Provides real-time, direct provider-to-patient care via voice or video, using a phone, laptop or desktop computer.
- Asynchronous, or “store and forward” telehealth: Instead of real-time conversations, asynchronous telehealth allows patient and provider to review each part of the interaction via text, email, or questionnaires.
- Remote patient monitoring (RPM) telehealth: Collects health information for future use via devices such as blood pressure monitors, thermometers, or blood glucose meters.
- Mobile telehealth: Uses mobile devices to facilitate mobile health services, such as smartphones, tablets, smart watches, and fitness trackers.
Summary: What is telehealth?
Factors such as COVID-19, the scarcity of rural healthcare, and rising healthcare costs have driven the dramatic increase in adoption of telemedicine. The benefits of telehealth for both patients and providers are plentiful. Telemedicine not only offers cost savings and convenience; it also can drive improved quality of care and better patient outcomes overall. With proper planning, practices can tailor their telehealth practice to best meet the needs of patients while maintaining regulatory compliance.
Medical Advantage Can Help You Reap the Benefits of Telehealth
Medical Advantage consultants can explain telehealth equipment requirements and help you implement solutions to safely connect with patients outside of office visits while enhancing patient engagement. Our HIPAA-compliant telehealth system also helps ensure reimbursement. Our services include:
- Technology selection and set-up
- Telehealth staff training and office staff engagement
- Scheduling optimization
- Telehealth documentation
- Education and promotion to patients
- Billing and coding advice
Contact one of our consultants today to learn how our training and consulting services can help you increase revenue, grow your practice, and provide valuable telehealth services to your patients.