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The Future of Telehealth

Before the pandemic, telehealth was still relatively rare, with only one in four U.S. healthcare organizations offering a virtual care program. Social distancing practices and requirements changed that nearly overnight. By the fall of 2020, around 80% of physicians said they had used telehealth.

In the early days, communication channels for giving care were devised on the fly. However, with more and more patients showing a preference for virtual care moving forward, providers have had to adapt and adopt more formalized systems.

Adding Investment, Addressing Needs

BDO's 2021 Healthcare Digital Transformation Survey revealed that 75% of healthcare organizations invest in telehealth capabilities. This is a dramatic increase over 2019 when just 42% responded that they were invested in this area.

In addition to setting up the technology needed, healthcare providers will need to invest in training to help clinicians adapt. The survey also found that 46% of clinicians are not currently comfortable using telehealth technology.

Healthcare organizations will need to prioritize training on the platforms they will be using. Training must include:

●      Important facets like scheduling consultations.

●      Sending prescriptions.

●      Providing care to patients.

●      Communicating through channels such as text and online chats.

Just over half of healthcare executives say that they have optimized telehealth workflows. The remainder must develop processes that effectively manage workflow for virtual care. There may be a need to hire additional staff to manage patient communications, schedule visits, and enter data into electronic health records.

Organizations will also need dedicated IT resources to ensure that systems run smoothly and that clinicians can get questions answered quickly.

Regulations Are Still Developing

The Department of Health and Human Services has already released rules governing telehealth use while staying compliant with HIPAA laws. However, future regulations are expected to be developed. Providers can stay ahead of regulatory trends by ensuring that they have good data governance practices, conform to HIPAA regulations, and prioritize patient privacy and data security.

More Information Is Needed on Payer Positions

During the pandemic, major insurance companies, Medicare, and Medicaid all agreed to reimburse for telehealth services. Since the precedent is there, payers are unlikely to be able to change course.

However, payers may, going forward, choose different reimbursement rates for in-person and telehealth visits, with telehealth having a lower reimbursement rate.

Additionally, if the health outcomes for telehealth turn out to be largely similar, this will likely affect office visit reimbursement rates, as well. This has occurred in the past with site-neutral payment initiatives. This, in turn, will encourage both providers and patients to opt for telehealth when possible. Both payers and providers will need to ensure that telehealth is only used when in-person care does not have a demonstrable benefit.

Adapting to Stay Competitive

Many patients have come to prefer telehealth over in-person care for many applications. Because of this, organizations will have to offer reliable, robust telehealth options to stay competitive. The sooner an organization develops a strong telehealth presence, the more likely they will continue to thrive even in the changing health landscape.

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