Healthcare organizations need to plan for telehealth services being the norm, not the exception.

Planning for a Long-Term Telehealth Strategy

Healthcare organizations need to plan for telehealth services being the norm, not the exception.If your organization was unprepared to offer telehealth to all your patients when COVID-19 first hit, you were not alone. At the start of 2020, millions of patient appointments were done the way they always had been: with in-person visits at a hospital or outpatient facility.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, most organizations and patients have used telehealth platforms, and telehealth is likely to continue at a high level even after current restrictions end. For healthcare organizations, now is the time to create a long-term strategy for affordable and effective technology that will deliver the highest quality care to your patients.

A Slow Trend Toward Virtual Care

Prior to 2020, the adoption rates for telemedicine were increasing at a painfully slow rate. Almost everyone in healthcare was aware that telehealth technologies were available, but there was little appetite to implement it in a widespread way for most patients. Part of the reason was a very confusing reimbursement landscape, where payors had limitations on what types of telehealth visits qualified for reimbursement. In most cases, the rates were significantly lower for those visits compared to an in-person visit. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also had stringent regulations around what technology platforms providers could use to comply with patient privacy laws.

Between 2016 and 2019, the use of telemedicine doubled from 14% to 28%1, but growth remained slow – even as patients were increasingly asking for more convenience2 in seeking care.

Telehealth Is Here to Stay

When clinics had to eliminate, or severely limit, in-person visits in 2020 to protect the lives and safety of patients, staff, and providers, telehealth usage quickly jumped to the forefront. CMS relaxed its rules about what platforms were suitable for telehealth to facilitate the rapid switch to virtual visits, and dramatically expanded the list of reimbursable services3. They also issued new rules increasing reimbursement rates for telehealth visits to the same amounts as in-person visits on many services. In December 2020, CMS made those expansions permanent4.

As rules and restrictions on in-person visits have eased, the volume of telehealth visits has remained fairly steady. Both patients and providers agree that it’s more convenient for many appointments that can be done without an in-person interaction. More than 4 in 5 patients (83%)5 said they expect to use telemedicine after COVID-19.

Build a Sustainable Telehealth Strategy for the Future

Telehealth services are not going away, but when the public health emergency is over, there will be changes. A key change is that the use of non-HIPAA-compliant platforms like FaceTime and Zoom will no longer be an option. For organizations that quickly cobbled together the technology required for telehealth visits, now is the time to start planning your long-term strategy. Without one, you could pay more than you should for software that doesn’t really meet your needs.

PAG consultants can help you launch a sustainable long-term plan by:

  • Identifying your needs.
  • Mapping out specific goals and KPIs.
  • Creating a budget.
  • Evaluating technology vendors and platforms.
  • Building consensus within your organization.
  • Finalizing contracts and moving toward implementation.

Ultimately, our goal is to help you get the best possible solution to fit your budget. Our experienced advisors will help you spend wisely, and save where possible, to get the most out of your healthcare technology. Contact us today for a no-obligation audit and get started planning for your telehealth future.

Sources Cited:

  1. https://www.ama-assn.org/about/research/ama-digital-health-care-2016-2019-study-findings
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kateashford/2017/01/30/videodoctor/?sh=768b322210ce
  3. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20200715.454789/full/
  4. https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/trump-administration-finalizes-permanent-expansion-medicare-telehealth-services-and-improved-payment
  5. https://www.doctor.com/blog/telemedicine-today-patient-adoption