By Rakhee Langer
The rapid expansion of telehealth solutions illustrates the fundamental shift in thinking that has taken place among practices of all sizes and specialties.
Understanding the changes in how providers and patients are learning and interacting today points to the role that digital solutions — specifically telehealth — will play in healthcare delivery in the future.
The telehealth landscape before COVID-19
As a company, healow provides a comprehensive suite of products for strengthening Patient Engagement, with smartphone apps, a Patient Portal, and solutions for telehealth, appointment booking, reminders, and much more. Everything we do is designed to make the engagement between providers and patients more convenient and meaningful. We strive to take advantage of the boundless possibilities of digital services while also seamlessly integrating with the in-office experience.
In normal circumstances — that is, before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic — our telehealth solutions played a modest but steadily growing role.
Telehealth has been valuable for behavioral and mental health, has improved patients’ adherence to medication regimes, and is well suited for follow-up care and even certain urgent care visits.
Early adopters saw the benefits of using remote visits for patients who may have lacked transportation, could not easily travel or were simply too busy to get to the physician’s office.
Yet doubts about telehealth persisted. Many doctors and patients worried that a video encounter could never capture the quality of a physical office visit. Some thought that telehealth would not work for their specialty. Others feared the learning curve would simply be too steep for participants on one or both sides of the medical visit.
Coronavirus sweeps away the doubts
In the space of just a few weeks, those doubts have been swept aside. In the space of one month from early March to early April, usage of healow TeleVisits™ increased from under 100,000 minutes daily to more than 1.5 million minutes daily. More than 50,000 physicians nationwide are now using our products.
To be sure, the ability to see one another and one’s healthcare provider in particular — even if only via a computer or smartphone for now — is hugely important. That helps explain the sudden surge in telehealth usage.
Essential elements: Interoperability, pre-visit questionnaire, records, follow-up
But while a video connection is a vital first step, healow goes much further. To the provider, access to complete patient records, previous Progress Notes, and lists of medications and allergies play a critical role in a successful televisit. With interoperability solutions that are seamlessly integrated into the eClinicalWorks electronic health record (EHR), our providers can better focus on what elements of each patient’s record are most relevant for the care episode.
Using healow, providers can streamline televisits by having visit-specific questionnaires along with vitals completed by patients prior to the visit, so the provider can have better insight and a more relevant conversation with a patient. A patient can start the televisit by a simple text or email link, and stay engaged with patients after the visit through messages, campaigns, and the healow app.
Before the pandemic, many providers worried telehealth might adversely impact the quality of care. Today, the 50,000+ physicians using healow are more concerned about keeping pace with patients’ demands for remote visits — and how they can best make telehealth a permanent part of their medical practices.
Compelling Success stories nationwide
- In Grapevine, Texas, MD TruCare, specializing in psychiatry, endocrinology, and sleep medicine, has been able to expand access to services, gain more referrals, and more easily reach patients who might otherwise have to travel for hours. The practice now conducts 100% of its visits through healow and plans to continue using it.
- Comprehensive Sleep Center, in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, quickly adopted healow TeleVisits to continue to provide care to their patients without the risks associated with having them physically visit the office.
- The 31 providers at Los Angeles-based APLA Health are using telehealth to enable patients to keep their counseling appointments, which are critical for their mental health. Without the need to endure LA’s infamously long commutes, patients are able to make and keep appointments more easily — having a richer experience.
- At VitalCare Family Practice in Virginia, Dr. Amar Shah used a telehealth visit to advise a patient with abdominal pain to seek immediate care. The patient was able to show the doctor a jar of black vomit, indicating internal bleeding. The subsequent hospital visit saved the patient’s life.
The future: A new healthcare landscape
With doubts about technology cleared away, regulatory hurdles being lowered, and telehealth taking a more prominent role in healthcare, you might think that’s the end of the story.
In fact, it’s just the beginning. As providers recognize telehealth’s benefits, they are coming to understand that it can complement and enhance every other aspect of their practice.
As practices become more experienced with telehealth, they are contemplating increasing their hours and/or days of services. Some are adding after-hours services exclusively for telehealth appointments so as to keep patients healthy and ER/hospital visits.
Given that healow TeleVisits are a natural extension of the work providers do in their electronic medical record (EMR), telehealth has the potential to reduce burdens on physicians — who can use digital technologies to more easily provide the same high quality of care.
Focusing on providers, patients, and relationships
At healow, we are passionate about building tools and solutions to support today’s complex healthcare delivery systems. But nothing is more gratifying to us than when doctors and patients who have never before used telehealth make that first online connection.
In that moment, we see the future of medicine turn its attention once more to what has always mattered most — the human connection between healer and patient.
Rakhee Langer is Vice president at healow (an eClinicalWorks telehealth solution).