Hybrid healthcare has taken control of the epidemic, and telehealth services have shown great promise in providing cost-effective healthcare to areas and communities that may have less frequent access to facilities and services.
Meanwhile, changes to Medicare and Medicare service centers’ reimbursements mean an expansion of telehealth services is here to stay: CMS recently announced 11 new Medicare payable telehealth services, bringing the total to 144.
Long seen as a model for future practice, telehealth services have become a current method of practice almost overnight.
Multiple studies conducted in the past year demonstrated the extent of the increased use of telehealth services, with a corresponding increase in telehealth claims from private insurance. Research firm Forrester estimated that patients logged more than 1 billion virtual care visits in 2020.
Telehealth Services at Hospitals Are Expected to Grow
Amber Humphrey, director of telehealth services at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that when the pandemic struck, 50 percent of the total health system volume shifted to telehealth services, almost overnight. .
“We’ve seen patients get very comfortable with telehealth very quickly,” she says, “and we’ve had more than 200,000 direct patient visits since the beginning of March.”
Telehealth services are becoming more and more widespread in the areas of health practice, with the participation of caregivers ranging from primary care to internal medicine. At VUMC, the offering also covers several pediatric specialties, including complex care for immobile children.
“Telehealth is now an expectation for patients,” says Humphrey. “They love the convenience and the knowledge that they can include remote family members in their care.”
Baylor Scott & White Health’s experience suggests that telehealth options are also generating new business, with 400,000 new patients testing the health system’s COVID-19 virtual care service.
At Orlando Health, a system of eight hospitals located in Central Florida, employees have deployed wearable devices to allow video visits between family members. There, the staff followed an “audit and experiment” implementation strategy that resulted in much faster uptake of telehealth services than the hospital initially anticipated.
Atrium Health, which launched its virtual hospital program last March, can meet two levels of care (surveillance care and acute care) through telehealth, including 24-hour remote monitoring of vital signs.
“I heard that a major healthcare system in the Cleveland area, where I live, is expected to account for 20 to 25 percent of its visits as telehealth progresses,” says Ryan Palmer, director of Kennedy Strategic Consulting Company. “This is due to reimbursement, but also due to the patient’s request.”
How Telehealth Programs Leverage Smart Devices
In the future, hospitals will be able to provide additional home testing devices and contactless services, for example by integrating smart healthcare devices into video visits, to reduce the need for patients to leave home for care.
Some of these products are already on the market, such as smart blood glucose meters that can send patient information to service providers.
“Increasingly, such devices will improve telehealth visits, increasing the value proposition of a telehealth visit for both the patient and the provider,” Palmer says.
As service providers continue to use lessons learned in 2020 to find new ways to use home health monitoring devices and services, this in turn will open new opportunities for disease detection, diagnosis and early disease intervention.
“You will always need to meet your provider in person,” Palmer says. “There are things you just can’t do as well with telehealth as you can personally, like a physical person.” However, there are many things that can be done well in a telehealth care visit, and having this option gives the patient more flexibility. For this reason, I see the two models of care complementary. “