Telehealth is one of the leading forces driving the digital transformation of healthcare.
To address the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) added Medicare telehealth coverage for 135 services. As a result, 50 percent of primary care visits during the first six months were conducted through telehealth, with a 4,000 percent increase in the Northeast alone. Telehealth adoption saved chronically ill and elderly patients from potential exposure to the virus, filled in gaps in care, and helped reduce delays.
But now the majority of independent physicians have adopted telehealth, what is the future of this technology?
In addition to providing patients the ability to video chat with their physician, telehealth has set a new precedent for patient care in terms of changes to payment models and policy, the patient-provider relationship, and mechanisms by which health care can be delivered — namely in care management.
Care management has one primary goal — to improve the health of the patient — and telehealth has made it possible to deploy new technology to keep patients healthy outside of the doctor’s office with new technology and data. Here are several of the main ways technology can assist.
Increasing Patient Engagement
Physicians can provide medical advice, but it is up to the patient to act on it. Care management cannot succeed if it is limited to the four corners of a doctor’s office; providing patients with actionable data can expand the footprint of care management.
In a podcast with Oliver Wyman, Keith Fernandez, MD, Privia’s Chief Clinical Officer, discussed how telehealth is part of the greater digital transformation in healthcare, one that shifts the focus from the patients’ visit with their physicians to empowering them with the data they need to make their own healthcare decisions. Used in conjunction with other technology, telehealth has made it possible to do just that.
Telehealth has opened the door for additional technology to aid in asynchronous care and data-driven patient engagement. Remote patient monitoring gives patients control of their health by providing supplemental technology and convenience. In a study by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Magee-Women’s Hospital, only 30 to 40 percent of women nationally see their physician for their six-week postpartum visits. These visits typically include screening for hypertension which, although common during pregnancy, typically dissipates postpartum. After UPMC provided blood pressure cuffs and a mobile app for patients to log their blood pressure, women were more likely to schedule a six-week postpartum visit with their physician. Remote patient monitoring that utilizes centralized tracking systems makes it easier for physicians to aggregate large amounts of patient data to identify at-risk patients and care gaps. Additionally, patients who had access to their data are more likely to continue their care.
When patients are empowered with their own health data and data-driven insights, they are more likely to engage in self-care. This is especially true when the data is delivered in a convenient manner.
Introducing Opportunities for Better Care
By integrating telehealth with care management, preventive medicine can be practiced outside of the office and providers can become more proactive at preventing illness.
Integrating telehealth into care coordination increases savings for patients with chronic illnesses. Interoperability has made this possible through a number of key capabilities. Telehealth helps streamline coordination by keeping care managers informed of a patient’s health issues and introducing effective means of managing care and intervening before the patient needs to go to the emergency room.
By integrating digital resources with care management, patients can manage their care more effectively with text message alerts, appointment reminder emails, virtual health coaching, and on-demand visits with their healthcare team. In this way, telehealth and online resources are paving the way for future technological advancement and more developed capabilities to support care management.
This trend is expected to grow as telehealth use continues. Studies show that older patients are growing increasingly comfortable with telehealth, opening the door for additional technology that can help physicians care for high-risk patients. Appropriate telehealth implementation can enable care management to become more convenient for both physicians and their patients. Physicians can continue to deliver high-quality care to extend their patients’ health outside of their office while reducing healthcare expenditures and administrative burden.
Although the benefits of telehealth have been apparent for some time, the pandemic has helped physicians become comfortable using telehealth and patients will likely expect these types of services to be available for their convenience and affordability. Therefore, it is imperative that CMS, Medicare Advantage, the Affordable Care Act, and the commercial market align to support healthcare providers as we adopt, implement, and evolve the utilization of these new technologies throughout the digital transformation.