It can be argued that emotional support from loved ones during illness or injury can speed up the rate of recovery. But this is not a luxury medical professionals can afford their patients in the current environment. The stress of isolation not only takes its toll on the patient but also the patient’s loved ones. The inability to see and connect with hospitalized friends and family members in-person can significantly increase rates of stress and anxiety.
Healthcare professionals are forced to carry out a balancing act of doing what’s right for the patient and what’s right for the general population. Healthcare organizations should try to provide patients with a stress-free environment and peace of mind for the patient’s loved ones. Below we discuss the best zero visitor practices to maintain patient satisfaction during COVID-19.
Communicate the Zero Visitor Policy
In order to avoid any surprises, ensure your patients are well aware of the zero visitor policy far in advance of their visit to your facility. The policy should be communicated in such a way that it is easy to understand by all types of patients. Healthcare organizations should communicate the policy numerous times and in different ways.
Methods include clearly stating the policy through:
Your website, patient portal, and social media channels
SMS/email before the appointment
Signage within your facility
Allow For Direct Communication
Hospital isolation can be taxing on anyone, but more so for the young, elderly, or people with disabilities. It’s essential to provide patients with a means to garner support from their loved ones when visitation is not possible. Provide your patients with a means to communicate with their loved ones directly. Encourage patients to bring WiFi-enabled devices and their charging cables and allow for personal devices within patients’ rooms. When a patient is required to stay for a length of time within a facility, which is normally the case for those recovering from COVID-19, “face-to-face” communication is vital to maintain strong mental health. The use of video may typically be prohibited, but exceptions should be made to allow patients to video call with their family. Exceptions may be made under the provision that a staff member is present to ensure the privacy of other patients within the ward/room or video calls may only be permitted at a specific time. This communication method allows patients and relatives to communicate in real-time, easing both parties’ apprehensions.
Establish A Reliable Communication System
Healthcare organizations should provide safe, practical communication methods to patients and their loved ones during this time. Text messaging family members during care is a convenient and effective way to communicate a patient’s status and progression. HIPAA-compliant text messaging allows staff members to securely communicate whether a patient is progressing normally or not, which keeps family members informed while they wait off-premise.
PatientTrak’s text messaging system is an industry-leading solution that helps keep patients, family members, and staff informed during hospital stays. During check-in, the relative’s contact number is recorded as well as their relation to the patient. Initially, PatientTrak’s communication system updated family members on how a patient was progressing during surgery. PaientTrak’s system can now provide family members with real-time updates on a patient’s stay within a healthcare facility.
The system also provides staff members with logistical messages, such as the progress of a patient throughout the facility and how long they may be waiting for care. Their functionality also notifies patients of where they should go and when the practitioner is ready for their appointment. Messaging functionality should only be available to specific users, depending on their authorization.
Most messages can be sent automatically via a predetermined template, saving staff time while still providing valuable information to relatives. Automatic messaging helps prevent any human errors/typos and HIPAA slip-ups. Staff members have the ability to create a message ad hoc if further information needs to be conveyed.
During this difficult time, it is possible to maintain a patient’s safety while avoiding the mental health complications that arise during isolation within a healthcare facility. Implementing zero visitor best practices not only improves the patient experience, but it helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. With text message and paging systems, healthcare organizations can keep everyone informed of a patient’s care while mitigating the need for a constant stream of visitors.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) COVID-19 Telehealth Program authorized by the CARES Act will provide $200 million in funding to support healthcare providers in offering telehealth services to patients during the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program aims to fully fund telecommunications services for eligible healthcare providers. Funds can be used to purchase devices and software needed to provide vital telehealth services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This support will continue until the program’s funds have been depleted or the COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
Who qualifies for the FCC Telehealth Fund?
The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is open to healthcare providers/organizations that treat patients within the USA. The FCC Telehealth Program is limited to nonprofit and public healthcare providers, including:
Post-secondary educational institutions offering healthcare instruction, teaching hospitals, and medical schools
Community healthcare centers or healthcare centers providing healthcare to migrants
Local health departments or agencies
Community mental health centers
Rural health clinics
Skilled nursing facilities
Associations of healthcare providers consisting of one or more entities falling into the first seven categories
The goal is to allocate funding to providers that serve areas which have been the most affected by COVID-19, and where support will be the most impactful on addressing the current healthcare challenge.
Participants are chosen based on responses to the following criteria:
Conditions to be treated
Goals and objectives to be achieved with the funding
Timeline for the deployment of the proposed service(s) or devices
Metrics that the applicant will use to help measure the impact of the funded services and devices
Geographic area and population served by the applicant
Whether funding will help high-risk and vulnerable patients
What products qualify for the FCC Telehealth Program?
The FCC Telehealth Program will support eligible healthcare providers to purchase telecommunications, information services, and connected devices required to provide telehealth services at this time.
Eligible services and connected devices for funding include:
Telecommunications and broadband connectivity services for healthcare providers or their patients.
Information services and online connected platforms for remote patient monitoring, patient-reported outcomes, the transfer of patient images and data, and video consultation.
Connected devices/equipment such as tablets, smartphones, or other devices to receive care at home (e.g., broadband-enabled blood pressure monitors, pulse monitors, oxygen monitors), or telemedicine kiosks/carts for healthcare providers.
Vendors of eligible services and devices are not eligible to apply for funding. The program is also not intended to fund the development of new websites, systems, or platforms.
How to acquire funding?
Obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN) from the Commission Registration System (CORES), as well as a CORES username and password.
Obtain an eligibility determination from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) by filing FCC Form 460 through My Portal on USAC’s webpage.
Due to the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that was first reported in Wuhan, China, on December 31st, 2019, the public is turning to telehealth to prevent further spread of the virus. Telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care. Telehealth software allows healthcare providers to conduct consultations with patients while both parties maintain a safe distance, preventing the spread of the virus.
Payers & Telehealth
Before the COVID-19 crisis, some private health insurance providers covered telehealth consultations, though this significantly varied by the payer and across states. If telehealth consultations were covered, they were usually at a lower reimbursement rate.
Medicare would cover telehealth if the patient lived in a “health professional shortage area” that is outside a metropolitan area. Medicare also required that patients go to a designated healthcare facility to initiate a video visit. After the initial e-visit, the patient and their local provider could connect using telehealth technology. Video visits from home, or anywhere that was not within a designated “originating site,” were not covered under Medicare.
Medicaid’s telehealth coverage was based on state laws, as the federal Medicaid statute does not recognize telehealth as a distinct service. Telehealth was viewed as a cost-effective alternative to the more traditional face-to-face way of providing medical care. Fifty states and Washington, DC, provided reimbursement for some form of live video in Medicaid fee-for-service.
Families First Coronavirus Response Act & Telehealth
Due to the COVID-19, healthcare authorities have urged the public and healthcare organizations to make use of telehealth software. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act passed on March 18th, 2020, requires payers to waive the amount an individual would pay for telehealth. USA President Donald Trump announced that “Medicare patients can now visit any doctor by phone or videoconference at no additional cost, including with commonly used services like FaceTime and Skype.” During the pandemic, health care providers will not be subject to penalties for violations of the HIPAA Privacy, Security, and Breach Notification Rules that occur in the good faith provision of telehealth.
Barriers that previously interfered with the use of telehealth software have been removed during this time. With the recent passing of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, patients are not required to pay for telehealth consultations related to COVID-19 testing and treatment. Additionally, public knowledge of telehealth software capabilities has significantly increased. Patients are now seeking alternatives to reduce their costs associated with COVID-19 testing and treatment, and will likely become accustomed to the convenience of receiving care via telehealth. Furthermore, the new Interoperability and Patient Access final rule legislation promotes secure and straightforward access to personal health information by patients through ubiquitous technologies such as smartphones. And the trend in mobile app implementation by healthcare providers will further drive the adoption of telehealth.
Telehealth & Healthcare Organizations
Telehealth may seem like a new concept fueled by COVID-19, but in reality, telehealth software companies have been around for many years and are growing in popularity. (The expectation is that the changes as mentioned above will rapidly drive growth.)
CareClix was founded in 2010 and works with qualified practicing physicians to provide a wide range of telehealth services. CareClix accepts Medicare, Medicaid, and most private insurance plans.
MDLive was founded in 2009 and has multiple partnerships within healthcare systems across the United States; they also accept some health insurers, including Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS). MDLive provides the public with healthcare professionals who are available by phone or online video 24 hours a day to help patients answer questions about non-emergency related medical conditions.
In both cases, these companies are staffed with their own physician network. This means that they provide telehealth software and physicians. There are other vendors in the market that provide only the technology, which is then purchased by healthcare organizations to be used with their own physician network. Bridge Patient Portal is an example of a vendor that provides a platform for healthcare organizations to offer telehealth services to patients using their private providers. It’s essential to recognize the difference in approach here. There are many considerations in terms of the pros and cons of each model. There’s a risk when physicians step out of their primary care provider’s (PCP) network and go to a random telehealth provider for their care. One could say that when a patient’s private insurance company is promoting their own telehealth provider, they are essentially circumventing the patient’s PCP. An example of this is BCBS’ partnership with MDLive, where patients are encouraged to seek care outside of their PCP.
Unless brick and mortar healthcare organizations adopt telehealth platforms, they may lose the business of their patients. The rapid growth in demand for telehealth, and circumventing by private healthcare insurance companies, are leaving healthcare organizations scrambling to provide their patients with telehealth software. As a temporary solution, healthcare providers can leverage traditional video conferencing platforms for e-consultations. Once the crisis has subsided, healthcare providers will likely no longer be able to use telehealth in this manner — as the HIPAA waiver expires. In addition, healthcare providers will no longer be reimbursed for telehealth services through video conferencing platforms. Given the many challenges that exist today in sharing health records, it’s preferred that patients seek care with the same network of providers to reduce the duplication of care and diagnostic testing. But if a patient’s PCP can’t provide telehealth, they may be forced to seek care elsewhere.
According to the Families First Coronavirus Response Actpassed on March 18th, 2020, congress requires payers to cover telehealth visits (with health care providers) that relate to COVID-19 testing, treatment, and consultations during the public health emergency. Reimbursement for telehealth solutions during this time is being provided for all patients, not only those with Medicare. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare professionals are scrambling to find a HIPAA compliant telehealth software.
Seeking a HIPAA compliant telehealth software during COVID-19
HHS has created new guidelines on HIPAA requirements and modified HIPAA’s Privacy Rule, which stated that healthcare organizations must use only secure methods of communication for telehealth visits. The Office for Civil Rights said that videoconferencing services normally not permitted under HIPAA may now be used by healthcare professionals for the good faith provision of telehealth solutions. This change in policy allows video conferencing platforms such as Zoom® to be used during this time of crisis.
The Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in an increase in healthcare organizations leveraging video conferencing apps. In the past month, Zoom® has become one of the most popular choices for teleconferencing, registering a 535% increase in traffic. Previously Zoom® has maintained that they provide a HIPAA compliant telehealth software: Zoom® for Telehealth. This service claims to incorporate access and authentication controls, HIPAA compliant messaging is secured with end-to-end encryption and Zoom® has signed a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement (BAA).
During the last few weeks, there have been several security concerns surrounding Zoom®. It has been reported that the company does not have end-to-end encryption as they previously claimed. This discovery makes Zoom® decidedly NOT HIPAA compliant.
If healthcare providers want to ensure that patient privacy is respected, they should reconsider the use of Zoom® as a HIPAA compliant telehealth software. Aside from the lack of end-to-end encryption, additional security concerns include videoconference hijacking, user data being shared with third parties such as Facebook™, and lapses in security that make Zoom® vulnerable to cybercriminals and malware. While Zoom® is willing to sign a BAA, which is a crucial step towards achieving HIPAA-compliance, there are too many security issues preventing HIPAA-compliance. Until these issues are fully resolved, we do not recommend Zoom® as a HIPAA compliant telehealth software.
DISCLAIMER: All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Bridge Patient Portal is not affiliated, endorsed, or sponsored in any way to the service providers mentioned in this article.