Telemedicine, the use of technology for remote patient monitoring and medical consultations, is experiencing growing pains in the U.S. It’s a logical response to ballooning healthcare expenditures and an ever-increasing physician availability shortage. Integrated with patient portals, patient engagement mobile apps, remote patient monitoring software and health tracking apps, telemedicine is also part of a growing market for patient engagement solutions.
However, going virtual with healthcare has not been straightforward, and has taken longer than anyone would have expected. For telemedicine to reach its potential, we need to address lags in adoption, privacy concerns, and health policy barriers.
Adoption: Generating Physician Buy-In
There are many private companies that specialize in telemedicine, such as virtual care applications or 24-hour “ask a doctor” services. The other option is a physician who has regular appointments also checking in with patients remotely via a telemedicine portal or a similar application. In this case, many physicians don’t want to change how they do medicine. For a successful transition to a hybrid format, first and foremost, the reimbursement must be there. Reasonable reimbursement for telemedicine is still mostly limited to certain states and is simply not enticing enough to drive telemedicine. A perfect example of this would be the use of chronic care management solutions for CPT code 99490 – which has seen unexpectedly low utilization. The evidence that telemedicine and patient engagement improves outcomes is still lacking as well.
Adoption: Developing Accessible Patient Engagement Solutions
Patients with chronic conditions that require frequent check-ins has a tremendous amount of potential to benefit from telemedicine. Older and typically less tech-savvy seniors are now surprisingly proficient with technology. For example, it may be hard for them to connect or use remote patient monitoring devices between office visits. On-screen interaction may not be easy for those with limited vision. This makes it difficult to engage patients. These obstacles can be overcome with accessible technologies, and health IT professionals should focus on this.
Privacy: HIPAA Compliant Remote Patient Monitoring and Consultation
In telemedicine, personal health information is sent in several ways, including text, audio, video, images, and real-time remote patient data from sensors. This worries healthcare providers, who need to comply with HIPAA privacy rules. While the tools we use daily may not meet standards (video, email, SMS) there are specialized platforms out there that do, the Bridge Patient Portal platform being one of them. These are essential to best practices in telemedicine.
Policy: Taking Advantage of in Interstate Licensing
States have different requirements about where a physician needs to be licensed to provide telemedicine services: In some cases, it’s the state where the practice is located. In others, it’s the state where the patient is located. Over twenty-six states have now introduced or enacted Interstate Medical Licensure Compact legislation, which will make it easier for physicians to practice in several states. As more states join, medical practices may need to be guided on how to get their healthcare teams licensed.
Policy: Addressing Different Reimbursement Rules Across States
Reimbursement is another area of inconsistency: Rules about which telemedicine services need to be covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance vary from state to state. This is being considered at the federal level. In the meantime, healthcare providers need easy access to centralized, up-to-date information on relevant policies.
By harnessing our society’s tech habits to engage patients and help physicians do their jobs better, telemedicine has lots of potential. At this stage, it faces roadblocks like privacy concerns and policy red tape. It’s important to equip healthcare providers with resources for navigating these issues. On the product end, we need to develop technologies that make telemedicine accessible and effective for both physicians and patients.
Patient engagement is a necessary element for the achievement of better quality of care and it is a critical component of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) initiative to focus on quality of care. CMS programs like the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, MACRA, are fundamentally changing the reimbursement matrix for healthcare in the United States by shifting the focus from fee for service to reimbursement for quality. Thus, determining the right patient engagement solution has become increasingly important for healthcare organizations.
A patient portal can increase a health organization’s ability to keep patients engaged and healthy. Furthermore, it facilitates the obtainment of MACRA goals. In order to succeed, however, physicians and staff must know how to properly leverage the portal to improve communication and boost engagement.
Here are four ways to promote patient engagement technology, like patient portals, to maintain an engaged patient population and improve patient outcomes
1. Raise Awareness about the Patient Engagement Technology
Does your organization have a strategy for promoting patient engagement technology? Simply implementing a patient portal is not enough. Patients need to know that the technology is available to them and how they can benefit from using it.
To provide an initial introduction to the patient portal, you can have staff assist patients with portal registration at check-in or checkout and provide step-by-step instructions for entering demographic and insurance information required for that day’s visit. Making tablets or kiosks available at check-in is a great way for patients to begin this process. You can send patients home with a handout about the portal in order to reinforce the message. Hanging posters promoting the portal in the waiting room and exam rooms is also a very cost effective way to raise awareness about the patient engagement technology that you are promoting.
If your organization has a website, you will want to promote the portal by placing a link to the page in a prominent place with a strong call to action. Sending an email blast to your entire patient database is another great way to raise awareness.
2. Assign a Care Coordinator
If your healthcare organization uses patient care coordinators to promote health awareness and help patients reach their care goals, you know how integral these individuals are to successful patient engagement technology implementation. Care Coordinators work with the physician and patient to develop a care plan, they communicate the provider’s plan to the patient, and they continually assess the patient’s needs. They also play a vital role in adoption of patient engagement technology by by promoting patient portal features that open lines of communication and streamline care plan management.
3. Strengthen the Physician’s Role
Physicians have one of the most important roles in promoting a patient engagement solution, like a patient portal.. A recent survey by the New England Journal of Medicine Insights Council, found that physician buy-in is essential to the adoption of patient engagement technology. Patients are much more likely to use a new technology if their physician wants them to use it. It is important to note that the physician’s role does not end after suggesting a new patient engagement technology, many patients will require reinforcement of the idea. For example, once patients are using a patient portal, their physician should mention the portal at each visit and specifically refer to a feature in which the patient might find value.
4. Highlight Useful Features
Your patient portal can do a lot of things, but chances are that most of your patients do not care about all of the portal’s features. Instead of overwhelming patients with information, tell them about the features that they are most likely to use. This includes things that make it easier for patients to manage their health and to perform otherwise time-consuming tasks online – for example, features that give them the ability to:
As patients get more comfortable using the new patient engagement technology , your organization may choose to start an email newsletter or awareness campaign to market new features. This process can be simplified if you have a patient engagement platform that provides email notifications using templates customized for your hospital or practice.
What it all boils down to is how the patient feels after each portal experience. If the first experience with the patient portal is a pleasant one, the more likely the patient is to continue using it.