Patient experience is evolving as providers embrace telehealth

More and more patients are able to take advantage of remote consults and other virtual care options as health systems have begun pursuing telehealth programs in earnest, new HIMSS Media research shows.

That’s not necessarily to say that many patients – and, indeed, many providers – don’t still prefer old-fashioned, in-person, one-on-one doctor-patient consults.

But as the new realities of staffing challenges and value-based care become apparent – and regulatory and reimbursement policies evolve to accommodate it – more and more healthcare organizations are embracing telehealth.

Nine in 10 of them, in fact, are offering or piloting telehealth programs, according to the new 2019 HIMSS report, “Telehealth: Disrupting the Care Delivery Paradigm.”

Of the 125 respondents asked about the telehealth projects underway at the U.S. hospital or health system where they work, 64% said they offer inpatient specialist consultation, and 61% said they offer remote patient monitoring.

Fifty-nine percent offer mental or behavioral health visits, while the same number said they offer outpatient specialist consultations; 55% offer remote sick visits and 49% offer wellness visits via telehealth. Slightly fewer providers (42% each) offer consultations via text and/or post-discharge follow-ups.

That might be attributable, in part, to technology challenges. While low-hanging fruit such as patient portals are commonplace at this point, the HIMSS survey shows that secure text-based and unified communication platforms are not as widespread.

To the question, “How well-prepared is your organization in each of the following technology areas to provide telehealth?” 60% said they were “very” or “extremely” prepared to manage portals, but fewer health systems were well-positioned to store high volumes of data (53%), offer provider-facing communication platforms (50%), or secure video technology to connect docs and patients (47%).

Further down the list? Just 42% and 36%, respectively, say they’re prepared to offer secure text-based platforms to enable patient-physician communication or unified patient-facing communication platforms.

Some of the biggest limitations, however, have more to do with factors on the patient side. 

HIMSS research shows that 42% of provider-side respondents said they believe their patients’ “preference for face-to-face interaction” is a major element limiting their telehealth adoption – far and away the most-cited reason.

Other hurdles on the way toward wider patient acceptance of telehealth: lack of access to video-enabled devices such as smartphones or camera-equipped computers (29%), lack of confidence in the safety and security of virtual care (29%), lack of technical knowledge to connect with telehealth services (28%), lack of robust and reliable access to mobile data and cell service (26%), lack of robust and reliable access to internet (26%) and concern about the quality of care offered via telehealth (20%).

The good news is that more and more patients are accepting and trusting of remote care technology. Which is helpful, because telehealth is here to stay – and promises to make further inroads as the realities of value-based reimbursement make its many benefits too hard to ignore.

At the Connected Health Conference in Boston this past month, five longtime leaders in telehealth took the stage to discuss what’s next for virtual care and remote monitoring. Their vision? One in which “primary care doctors will be virtualists, who are going to take care of hyper-convenient care, very scalably, using virtual online technologies,” as Dr. Lyle Berkowitz, chief medical officer at MDLIVE and a longtime physician IT leader at Northwestern, explained.

Dr. John Halamka, international healthcare innovation professor at Harvard Medical School, agreed, predicting a new era of “virtualist centers in what were formerly known as hospitals. It’s going to be the emergency department for heart attacks or strokes. An ICU tower right next door which will take care of the sickest of the sick that can’t possibly have home health care … But other than that? All the ambulatory care stuff, and all the simple stuff? It all gets moved into the home.”

“The pace of telehealth adoption is accelerating driven by a desire to expand access to care, make care more convenient, address talent gaps/shortages, improve care coordination, better monitor and treat at-risk populations and expand population health programs,” said Janet King, senior director of market insights at HIMSS Media.

“While healthcare organizations are generally well-prepared with basic tools such as patient portals, more complex unified communication platforms are somewhat more of a challenge. Even though face-to-face interaction is still preferable for most providers, more and more recognize that telehealth technologies can improve both access and outcomes.”

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: [email protected]

Healthcare IT News is a publication of HIMSS Media.

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