The use of telehealth has rapidly expanded across the healthcare landscape this year as a response to COVID-19, and this growth is not expected to slow down any time soon. In fact, Frost & Sullivan forecasts, “a sevenfold growth in telehealth by 2025 – a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.”1
However, new opportunities to deliver and receive care come with new challenges. Most providers and patients have been flexible this year, each party doing the best they can to engage in safe, efficient healthcare interactions in their new settings. But as we look beyond the circumstances we’re in, now is the time to seriously consider offering telehealth long term.
Here are three of the top telehealth challenges to be aware of so you can best provide virtual care for years to come.
1. Patient adaptation
Although patient demand for telehealth is increasing across healthcare, some age groups are more prone to pursue virtual care than others. A recent survey found that young patients (ages 18 to 24) are more receptive to telehealth, while those aged 35-45 said COVID-19 has not increased their use of telehealth services.2
For providers who have largely elder patient populations, there will likely be a need to familiarize patients with telehealth. Patients may have trouble requesting a visit online, entering their virtual visit room, updating forms online and/or accessing their post-meeting treatment plans. Physicians and their team should be ready and patiently willing to demonstrate how their telehealth platform works, to build patients’ comfort level with this form of care and to persuade those who are hesitant to try telehealth.
2. Staff proficiency and efficiency
Just as some patients will need more telehealth support than others at first, some staff members may need a bit of extra support to operate telehealth efficiently as well.
It’s important to stress telehealth training with every person on your team. Whether for online scheduling, ensuring patient information is provided and up to date, or billing and payment processing, your front-office team needs to be fully proficient with your telehealth service. Otherwise, there’s risk of double work being done at various points of the telehealth treatment cycle, not to mention a decrease in patient satisfaction.
To best ensure staff efficiency while offering telehealth, schedule regular trainings with your team, conduct a feedback survey with your patients to best understand how they are enjoying their experience, and most importantly, make sure you’re using the right telehealth tools.
Your platform should be more than simply HIPAA-compliant. It should be easy for staff and patients to use, and its connection needs to be reliable during every encounter, no matter where you or your patient are.
3. Telehealth compliance and regulations
The final post-COVID-19 telehealth challenge is to prepare for the changes in regulations and compliance that are likely to come. The requirements around communication devices3 and in-state licensure4 for telehealth have been lenient to promote physical distance and safety during COVID-19. As we better combat the virus, these leniencies will be replaced by more stringent requirements.
This will affect both pre- and post-visit operations, and the sooner you and your staff are up to speed, the better. Continue to keep an eye on CMS regulations for further updates regarding telehealth, but also be mindful of local guidelines. As new requirements are released, ensure your telehealth process is HIPAA-compliant, use the appropriate billing and reimbursement codes, and train your team on non-COVID-related codes, tools and processes to use going forward.
Navigating the new normal together
The good news about all the post-COVID-19 telehealth challenges is that they are common challenges many healthcare providers will face – and overcome – together. Healthcare has never been more united and forward-thinking than it is today, and while there are still many issues to resolve, there are even more accomplishments to be proud of and opportunities to seize, particularly in terms of implementing telehealth.
To continue learning how to best succeed with telehealth long term, click here.
1 “Telehealth set for ‘tsunami of growth’, says Frost & Sullivan,” Mike Miliard, Healthcare IT News, Accessed July 28, 2020 https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/telehealth-set-tsunami-growth-says-frost-sullivan
2 ”Survey: Americans’ perceptions of telehealth in the COVID-19 era,” Bill Siwicki, Accessed July 28, 2020 https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/survey-americans-perceptions-telehealth-covid-19-era
3 “OCR Announces Notification of Enforcement Discretion for Telehealth Remote Communications During the COVID-19 Nationwide Public Health Emergency,” HHS Press Office, Accessed July 28, 2020 https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2020/03/17/ocr-announces-notification-of-enforcement-discretion-for-telehealth-remote-communications-during-the-covid-19.html
4 “U.S. States and Territories Modifying Requirements for Telehealth in Response to COVID-19,” FSMB, Accessed July 28, 2020 https://www.fsmb.org/siteassets/advocacy/pdf/states-waiving-licensure-requirements-for-telehealth-in-response-to-covid-19.pdf
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