What has led to the boom in telemedicine platforms?
During 2020 the growth of healthcare telemedicine solutions was propelled by the pandemic and enabled by new CMS policies supporting payment for video visits[¹]. In addition, the United States government acknowledged the need for telemedicine services’ through The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) COVID-19 telehealth Program. The program provided funds to healthcare providers in order to purchase devices and software for providing their patients with telemedicine services. Additionally, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act[²] ensures that patients aren’t required to pay for telemedicine consultations related to COVID-19 testing and treatment. And the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) permits healthcare providers to use non-HIPAA-compliant video conferencing software to provide telemedicine during the pandemic[³]. Medical practitioners using these solutions will not be subject to penalties for HIPAA violations as long as they are using telemedicine correctly, ensuring patient safety and satisfaction at all times.
Recommended reading: The Rise Of Telehealth Software During COVID-19
Types of telemedicine software
There has been a rise in telemedicine companies that provide consultations using their select physician network. MDLive® is an example of such a company; they provide users with healthcare professionals 24 hours a day by phone or online video. Insurance companies[⁴] are partnering with these providers, such as MDLive®, which enables the insurance company to circumvent the existing patient-provider relationships to likely reduce the cost to the insurance company. However, the problem is that this removes the important relationship the patient has with their primary care provider and is, therefore, a threat to the very existence of the typical “brick & mortar” practice.
If a healthcare provider does not have telemedicine software, patients may be forced to search for one who does outside of their primary care provider’s network. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic®[⁵] found that patients value the ability to build a clinician-patient relationship through telemedicine. Although convenient, these telemedicine platforms may not guarantee that a patient will contact the same practitioner visit after visit.
It’s preferable for healthcare organizations to use healthcare telemedicine solutions that provide their physicians with a means to conduct virtual visits with their existing patients. Keeping telemedicine in-house benefits the patient’s experience and reduces the chance of significant revenue loss.
In order to quickly meet the telemedicine needs of patients, providers have been known to use non-HIPAA-compliant solutions such as Apple FaceTime®, Facebook Messenger™, Skype™, WhatsApp®, and Zoom®. These solutions allow organizations to provide telemedicine via their physician network, but HIPAA compliance is called into question with many of these. Healthcare organizations will not be able to offer telemedicine services in this manner indefinitely; the HIPAA waiver[⁶] will eventually expire. In any case, there is an urgent need to launch in-house healthcare telemedicine solutions and to make advancing telemedicine services a priority.
Most wanted features of telemedicine
Healthcare telemedicine solutions shouldn’t be so far detached from an organization’s normal workflow. Familiarity will help providers and patients adopt a new telemedicine solution easily.
Features of telemedicine should allow patients to do the following:
- Self-schedule telemedicine appointments online via a medical scheduling software
- Get a notification to start/join their telemedicine visit
- Receive guidance on what to expect for their first visit, including explaining hardware setup
- Access a virtual waiting room
- Message or chat with staff to troubleshoot audio/video issues
- Interact with providers using both video and audio elements, ideally with a telephone call in support, which could also facilitate help from an interpreter
- Share images and files during the telemedicine visit
An ideal telemedicine solution should integrate seamlessly with clinics’ Electronic Health Record (EHR), Revenue Cycle Management (RCM), or Practice Management (PM) source system(s). Healthcare providers should be able to share data bidirectionally between the source systems and their telemedicine platform, or the correct staff added to make up for interoperability gaps.
Recommended reading: Telehealth vs. Telemedicine
Healthcare telemedicine solutions in 2021 and beyond
During 2020 there was a significant growth of telemedicine; now, healthcare organizations wonder how funding, reimbursement, and usage will continue.
Healthcare providers will no longer be able to leverage common non-HIPAA-compliant video conferencing platforms for e-consultations as the HIPAA waiver expires. In order to keep up with enduring telemedicine demand, healthcare providers will need to implement HIPAA-compliant telemedicine software.
Previously, health care providers experienced difficulties in receiving reimbursement for telemedicine services as different states charged for telemedicine in entirely different ways. In 2020 most payers now pay for a telemedicine visit as if it were an in-person visit, and this payment practice is expected to continue.
The year 2020 saw the meteoric rise of telemedicine. Virtual healthcare usage by both patients and providers is expected to sustain from here on out. By leveraging telemedicine as part of a more comprehensive patient engagement solution, providers can meet patient demand for the digital solutions they’ve now come to expect.
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- www.cms.gov. (, 2020). MEDICARE TELEMEDICINE HEALTH CARE PROVIDER FACT SHEET | CMS. [online] Available at: https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/medicare-telemedicine-health-care-provider-fact-sheet.
- Lowey, N.M. (2020). Text – H.R.6201 – 116th Congress (2019-2020): Families First Coronavirus Response Act. [online] www.congress.gov. Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/6201/text.
- 6. Rights (OCR), O. for C. (2020). Notification of Enforcement Discretion for telehealth. [online] HHS.gov. Available at: https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/special-topics/emergency-preparedness/notification-enforcement-discretion-telehealth/index.html.
- Japsen, B. (n.d.). Cigna Expands MDLive telemedicine Partnership To Primary Care. [online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucejapsen/2020/01/13/cigna-expands-mdlive-telehealth-partnership-to-primary-care/ [Accessed 30 Nov. 2020].
- Elliott, T., Tong, I., Sheridan, A., and Lown, B.A. (2020). Beyond Convenience: Patients’ Perceptions of Physician Interactional Skills and Compassion via Telemedicine. Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes, [online] 4(3), pp.305–314. Available at: https://mcpiqojournal.org/article/S2542-4548(20)30075-8/abstract