Understanding Telehealth in the Present and Future

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The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the current landscape in terms of how we think of the role technology plays in our lives. One of the most greatly affected industries during 2020 – and well into the future – is healthcare. The healthcare industry has experienced an unprecedented transition from traditional face-to-face interaction to online and digital efforts. 

While proponents of “telehealth” remind us this technology is not new, there has been an unprecedented growth in the number of online interactions between patients and their health providers. Many around the industry are weighing in on the benefits of telehealth and commenting on possible limitations. Here’s a quick guide to these limitations and benefits.

Methods for Telehealth Interaction

There are a few different ways telehealth can be administered. First, doctors and patients can have a conversation in real-time over the phone or a visual meeting over the internet. This method is known as “synchronous.” Data can also be shared in real-time with the use of digital medical equipment like stethoscopes, otoscopes, or ultrasounds.to evaluate a patient. 

“Asynchronous” care happens when patient data is collected and stored in the cloud and the healthcare provider retrieves and reviews it at a later time.  Examples of this type of care include remote patient monitoring and data a patient provides on their pain, injuries, or other maladies. Many wearable devices produce data that can be automatically sent to providers and are one of the most innovative examples of remote patient monitoring.

Benefits of Telehealth

One of the most amazing uses of remote patient monitoring on a general scale is the ability of doctors to provide care to patients in hard-to-access locations, such as third-world countries or countries devastated by natural disasters. It has been a powerful tool to connect patients with doctors during the pandemic when face-to-face contact has been limited. Telehealth can connect doctors to those with low mobility who cannot or should not leave their homes on a frequent basis. Telehealth also provides an efficient way to monitor chronic disease and provide preventive and routine care. 

This has allowed doctors to screen patients for Covid-19 from a distance, provide urgent care for more routine conditions not related to the pandemic, deliver advanced planning and counseling and refer patients to telehealth consults with behavioral health and other specialists. While many telehealth visits were a necessity under stay-at-home orders early in the pandemic, many patients will continue to use this convenient method of care.

Reimbursement

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services acted quickly at the early stages of the pandemic creating multiple waivers related to remote patient monitoring services. These waivers granted payment parity between telehealth and in-person clinical care for Medicare beneficiaries. Many private insurers also added telehealth visits to benefit plans. 

There are many state laws that govern healthcare plans, so it is important for patients to contact their insurance plans to know what type of telehealth services are covered by their plan.

Accountability in the Telehealth Industry

There are important accountability and privacy concerns that need to be addressed with this increased use of remote patient monitoring services. State licensing laws may need to be updated to allow for doctors to provide care across state lines. There are a variety of restrictions and watchdog mandates placed around telehealth at this time because of the emerging and novel nature of the field. Health systems are paying close attention to state and federal requirements in an effort to ensure they’re not breaking any mandates or newly enacted laws. 

In addition, the Office of Civil Rights is making frequent announcements as to the progress and practice of telehealth in relation to HIPAA. Many health professionals are training providers and staff on the optimal practices, policies, and protocols for using these services, which include scheduling, documentation, and billing. All of these safeguards have been put in place to ensure the safety of patients and their information.

Limitations

Finally, although the nature of telehealth is changing and improving every day, there are limitations to using telehealth. The first and most obvious case is urgent medical needs that require immediate medical intervention. Telehealth cannot replace a trip to an emergency room or urgent care center when life or limb is in danger. 

Some patients have limited access to the devices and knowledge on how to use the technology needed for this care. Privacy concerns will limit the use of telehealth by some patients. Others who value face-to-face interaction greatly may not take advantage of the benefits of telehealth. Finally, it is important to note that telehealth benefits vary by the health plan and it is important for patients to understand their benefit, so they can get the most out of it without any unexpected charges.

Telehealth when used appropriately provides tremendous value to patients. Have questions about telehealth appointments? We can help! Reach out to a Bedsiide Healthcare Assistant today!

About Bedsiide

Bedsiide is a value-based health benefit that empowers you to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system.​

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