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Challenges Facing the Telehealth Industry

Phones and laptops are now essential medical technology, as doctors’ visits have transitioned from medical offices to patients’ homes. What does it mean to IT?

Cloud communication provider Vonage marks that the former sleepy telehealth industry has jumped more than 2000% in the last month. Their customer, Doxy.me says that 139,000 new health care providers have joined their platform in just one week. They served 1,35 million patients in that week, averaging 170,000 calls each day. Another customer, Doctolib, is doing 100,000 video consultations every single day. Telehealth has suddenly evolved from a “nice to have” to a “need to have” for major health systems.

The reasons for this amazing spike are:

  • Ready-made solution 
  • Advance technologies ubiquity
  • Social distancing
  • Expanded Medicare coverage of telehealth services 
  • Relaxing of HIPAA guidelines 
  • Long term investment 

The meaning of telemedicine is broad. It’s anything from taking care of a patient’s needs through the telephone to actually having patient-doctor video interactions assisted with devices. Telehealth services can deal with a broad scope of problems, including skin concerns, minor infectious diseases, psychiatry, and minor orthopedic problems like sprains. So whether it’s loading information from your smartwatch, using blood pressure cuffs, or a remote stethoscope like Eko Health has built – telemedicine embraces it all.

According to Vidyo survey, healthcare providers identified telehealth as their top IT priority. Next comes the strengthening of data security and implementing EHRs and patient portals. Two-thirds of respondents said they expect their telehealth budget to grow over the next three years.

Notoriously resistant to reform healthcare system provokes a bunch of challenges which we split by reasons:

Legal:

  • Strong compliance. Meeting government standards for clinical data sharing is a tricky matter. Patients worry that their medical data may be hacked or sold. One mistake can lead a hospital, health system, or practice into non-compliance, which can include substantial fines.
  • Multi-state licensure. For all this progress, 21 states still do not allow to practice medicine across state borders presumingly for protecting their local licensees. Thus a provider who is licensed in California can’t provide services in Idaho. However, we can notice some legislative activity from time to time aimed to allow cross-state telehealth.
  • Parity payments. Parity within the telemedicine context means that if you’re seen via Zoom or in-clinic, insurance companies should pay roughly the same amount. Now many doctors ask the patient to come into the office because they won’t get paid otherwise. Though many providers are slowly adding selected telehealth services to their reimbursement rates, the industry reluctance prevents patients from this novel.
  • Slow adoption. In most countries, hospitals have been slow in adopting telemedicine technologies thanks to low IT budgets, legacy systems, and a lack of workforce. However, today’s telemedicine is increasingly run by startups – such as MDLIVE in the U.S., Babylon Health in the UK, and Doktor24 in Sweden – which have until now faced significant challenges in overcoming resistance from established healthcare systems.

IT:

  • Legacy systems. Legacy objections regarding security, interoperability, and infrastructure should and could be addressed with today’s technology. With moving to cloud-based environments, health systems can worry less about maintaining a secure, extensible infrastructure and instead focus more on improving both patient and financial outcomes. Larger health systems now aim to further strategic imperatives such as improving quality, reach, and patient outcomes while containing costs. Telehealth and remote patient monitoring solutions help enable these results.
  • The urgency of development. The virtual hospitals and self-diagnostic gadgets are part of a wider suite of innovations developed at breakneck speed during the pandemic response. Few aspects of the healthcare industry have left untouched in recent months as the COVID-19 pandemic seized the globe. We recommend that organizations look for an open architecture for flexibility and customization, existing integrations into EHR and clinical tools, and a platform with a vast ecosystem of third-party partners. Here you can learn more about Implementing an EHR System to Support Clinical Research that we’ve done for french Pharmaceutical Company.
  • HQ video solutions. Here are the main requirements for telemedicine video providers:
    • The solution must enable HIPAA compliance through 256-bit AES encryption for data in transit and at rest.
    • Seamless integration with EHR and EMR systems. This allows to launch a video visit directly from thу doctor’s workflow and update charts and records in real-time.
    • Ability to work in low-bandwidth environments to bring services to patients in rural.
  • Extra devices. A decade ago, fitness-trackers merely counted steps. Today they measure heart rates, and the latest Apple Watch can create an ECG similar to a single-lead electrocardiogram. Remote devices for telehealth see a surge in demand. On the horizon are devices and apps for home blood testing or biomarker signals capture later sent to physicians for evaluation.

Social:

  • Awareness and adoption – A year ago, patients would rather wait till the next day to see their primary care doctors; these days, they’d chat with a physician. This pandemic has really pushed a lot of us to try telemedicine for the first time. In their 2019 Telehealth Satisfaction Study, J.D. Power reports that customer satisfaction with telehealth services is high: 851 on a 1,000-point scale. 65% of consumers are more likely to use telehealth if the cost is less than a doctor’s office visit.
  • Low-income population. Broadband access, smartphones, and the digital kit that connects to them remain expensive, which means telemedicine may not be viable for the poor or less tech-sophisticated seniors, who need these sorts of novel healthcare solutions the most.
  • Lack of skills. Doctors and patients both need some education. The relevance of digital skills in the COVID-19 is necessary work that must be done.

Conclusion: Telehealth has helped expand access to care when the pandemic has severely restricted patients’ ability to see their doctors. It is not a solution to the current crisis, but it will be one of its lasting consequences. Today, actions taken by healthcare and IT leaders will determine if the full potential of telehealth is realized after the crisis has passed.