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      7 min read

      Pandemic Has Practices Scrambling For Profitable Telehealth Solutions

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      It took just 130 days in 2020 to give telehealth the shove it needed. Until then, few U.S. providers had even given telehealth much of a thought. More than a century in the making, its evolution and acceptance had progressed at a snail's pace. What it needed was a jolt. What it got was astounding.

      Projected Telehealth Solutions Growth Expected to be 'Staggering'

      On Jan. 20, 2020, the first official U.S. COVID-19 case was announced. On May 30, 2020 – 130 days later – the one-millionth U.S. case was recorded, to go with 100,000 deaths. In between those two dates, telehealth use in America exploded in ways that could scarcely have been imagined a year earlier.

      That explosion resonated throughout the rest of 2020 and into 2021. Today, it shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, the pandemic marks the beginning of what Frost & Sullivan, a global growth management consulting firm, predicts to be a “tsunami of growth” in the telehealth solutions market that could result in “staggering seven-fold growth by 2025.”

      Just as staggering is the anticipated economic windfall from this predicted massive growth. As a writer for the Medical Economics Journal put it, telehealth growth during the pandemic “exposed a massive opportunity in previously untapped revenue streams.”

      If you're following the money, the message is clear: Get aboard the telehealth software bandwagon or prepare to be left behind. As many practices are learning, the problem is figuring out how to quickly pivot to allow them to continue providing needed services for their patients – but in a virtual setting.

      Zoom meetings alone just won't do.

      According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report, many providers in early 2020 didn’t have the capacity to offer telehealth care models at a level that met the enormous demand created by the pandemic. Fortunately, relief for that lack of capacity came in the form of regulatory changes that facilitated a new influx of cash to healthcare systems so they could create or upgrade telemedicine solutions.

      Still, the KFF revealed that even though 50 of America’s largest health systems already had telemedicine programs in place, only about 15% of physicians at those systems actually used the platform.

      The sudden demand for mobile health services and new financial support for digital health meant that many healthcare systems had to consider revising or replacing their current platforms, then offer support and education to providers and patients to get everyone up to speed. And again, practices that didn’t already have systems in place learned quickly that there is a lot more to remote healthcare than just a virtual connection.

      Are you considering converting from a paper-based system to EHR? Click here to download a free guide to help prepare yourself.

      Zoom Meetings Not Enough; Telehealth Requires Agility, Integration, and Security

      For years, the healthcare industry tried to figure out how to get people to buy into remote care services but was always met by reluctance or resistance by patients. Despite the obvious advantages of telehealth technology, industry leaders were left to scratch their heads and wonder:

      • Is the technology too difficult to use?

      • Are users concerned about its security?

      • Are older patients comfortable seeing their doctor online?

      What was it going to take to truly get telehealth off the ground? After decades of painstaking progress, the answer came unexpectedly in the form of the pandemic – a catalyst no one saw coming but which elevated the telehealth conversation to hot-topic status seemingly overnight.

      As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, telehealth usage in the first quarter of 2020 increased 50% over that same quarter in 2019 – and by 154% at the start of the second quarter over the prior year. These dramatic increases, of course, were brought about by increased demand for virtual care in a largely quarantined environment.

      This seismic, industry-shifting change hasn’t occurred without its share of challenges. Given the range of services, practice sizes, and patient needs, there is no simple one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to telehealth platforms. What does this mean for organizations in the market for EHR that has a strong telehealth functionality?

      It means they need to find a vendor partner with a flexible high-quality EHR that can satisfy the different preferences of providers and patients.

      Early in the covid-19 pandemic, some health care providers resorted to private systems like Zoom or FaceTime to see patients if their systems weren’t ready to meet their care delivery needs. Such stopgap solutions may have seemed reasonable and appropriate in the frenzy of the moment, but these platforms soon raised concerns about patient privacy.

      Ultimately, it isn’t enough just to put a screen between patients and providers. There must also be an agile and integrated EHR software system that securely enables telehealth visits.

      Find EHR Vendor With Record of Proven Success

      see why insync healthcare solutions is highly ratedThe pandemic swept across the country so swiftly and suddenly that many practices were scrambling to fill immediate telehealth needs by making hasty EHR purchases. Unfortunately, many of those EHR systems lacked the agility, consistency, and ease of use that comes with fully integrated software.

      Blending flexibility and consistency, however, can be difficult.

      “Usually companies that struggle don’t have an EHR integration,” says Chad Anguilm, vice president of in-practice technology services at the Michigan-based healthcare consulting firm Medical Advantage. “It’s not enough to just offer a telephone number or link. It’s about training and support for everyone involved. Everything from triage to ‘webside manner’ is completely different in telehealth, and you have to be trained properly from the front office to the clinical team,” he says.

      In addition to evolving and adapting to the needs of your practice, vendors should also have a record of success with healthcare clients — and be able to prove it. A good vendor will demonstrate success elsewhere and be willing to create workarounds and flexible solutions where you need them.

      They should acknowledge gaps in their system and share their plan for closing those gaps. Telehealth isn’t a static platform.

      “Ask for two or three references in a similar specialty,” Anguilm says. “If it’s taking a long time to find those references, that should be a red flag.”

      The biggest question, says telehealth expert Joseph Brennan of Moonshot Health Consulting in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is how the system and patients will be supported after the health system signs on.

      “When implementing a technology that is in healthcare, whoever is supporting you —the relationship is critical,” Brennan says. “So, I would ask [the vendor], ‘What is your model for support and what do I get with what I’m buying?’”

      It’s helpful to have a dedicated project manager or support team from start to finish, Anguilm adds. Sustainability is key. For example, if waivers and reimbursement change once the pandemic subsides, you shouldn’t need to find a new platform. To that end, a good partner should provide the following:

      • A full implementation plan

      • A dedicated contact who will educate patients

      • Reimbursement information

      Avoid long-term contracts, he adds, because there isn’t much information yet on what reimbursement for telehealth will look like a year from now.

      schedule a demo with insync healthcare solutions

      “Simply put, a good vendor partner program should feel like an extension of ongoing operations. Healthcare organizations looking for a strong partner for telehealth should expect a level of support that maximizes opportunity and minimizes headaches and interruptions to current workflows."

      — Roland Therriault, president and executive vice president of sales at InSync 

      Healthcare Solutions

      “Vendor partners should take on the heavy lifting of implementations, technology adoption and optimal use of a telehealth solution,” Therriault adds. “In addition, the best relationships ensure ongoing success by keeping providers apprised of evolving regulatory movements, ensuring infrastructures align with the most advanced security, functionality and ongoing support and oversight of end-user education. This way, providers are able to focus on patient care and other mission-critical activities.”

      Red flags and warning signs

      When it comes to telehealth, the big challenge seems to be the technology. But solutions that focus on technology alone aren’t enough. Telehealth platforms must be developed with a deep understanding of healthcare and the needs of both patients and providers. When searching for a telehealth platform, there are several things to watch for, including vendors who overpromise.

      Again, ask vendors for references from providers who are already using their system.

      Anguilm adds that it’s also important to be alert to glitches and delays during demonstrations of the program. If glitches and delays happen during a demo, they will happen live, he warns. Make sure the company can support the technology it promises.

      Brennan suggests that part of the vendor partner selection process should include a discussion about failure and connection rates. Do users who sign on stay on for their appointments? Where are people dropping off and what can the vendor do to help address this?

      There should be ongoing support and service, too, with teams dedicated to support providers and address patient problems.

      The best vendors offer help-desk services and ongoing support for both clinical and technical support.

      Overall, Brennan says, understand that not every solution works for every system and that there is a big difference between technology and healthcare. The key is finding someone who understands your goals and knows what it takes to get you there.

      “It’s all the same thing. It’s videoconferencing bolted onto your EMR,” he says. “But if the person you’re talking to doesn’t have any healthcare references, that’s a big red flag. They’re either brand new and you’re going to be their first customer, or it’s not going (to be) that great. Many tech people don’t understand how intricate every aspect of healthcare is. This isn’t a retail shopping experience; this is healthcare.”

      InSync Sets the Standard for Telehealth Solutions
      Watch Telemedicine Snapshot Video

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      InSync Healthcare Solutions specializes in healthcare EHR software that is fully integrated and with a wide range of telehealth advantages, including: 

      • HIPAA-compliant integration ensures patient privacy; all meetings are encrypted

      • Easy scheduling requests for telehealth visits through the patient portal

      • Automated billing for telehealth sessions through a dynamic rules engine

      • Fewer appointment cancellations or missed appointments; higher patient satisfaction

      • Telehealth sessions are configurable to different encounter types

      • Group therapy capability for an unlimited number of participants

      • Full tech support throughout the lifetime of our working relationship with you

      For a closer look at how the InSync software system can streamline your organization's workflows, schedule a demo now with one of our experts. We're happy to answer questions and explain how our system can save you time and money. 

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      Resources

      Medical Economics:

      Four new statistics that prove that telemedicine isn't just a pandemic fad

      Healthcare IT News:

      Telehealth set for 'tsunami of growth,' says Frost & Sullivan

      HIMSS:

      CDC: Telehealth visits more than doubled in March 2020

      Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

      The Influence of Telehealth for Better Health Across Communities

       

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