Secure telehealth can improve access, help lower costs and protect patient data

The global telehealth market is projected to reach $34.0 billion by 2020.1 Driving the U.S. market growth is an aging population, increasing prevalence of chronic diseases and significant advances in software and health information technologies. Further driving this expansion is now 48 states are reimbursing for telehealth for Medicaid patients, while 29 states have telemedicine reimbursement parity laws for private insurance.2

Yet another market driver is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' "Next Generation ACO," model, which will expand coverage and reimbursement to providers for telehealth services.3

Telehealth care delivery, however, demands the same security and privacy standards that organizations have in place for all their Protected Health Information (PHI). That is why healthcare organizations considering telehealth applications and video web conferencing technology to deliver care are looking for systems designed to support those stringent standards.

Ideal telehealth technology in healthcare would also be simple to use for patients who may not be tech savvy. Providers, too, prefer simple operation so they can then concentrate on delivering safe, quality care instead of worrying about security or being distracted by software.

Telehealth expands access, lowers costs
Telehealth's expected expansion in the U.S. is understandable considering it addresses three major challenges: physician shortage, cost control and population health management. The nation will be short as many as 90,000 physicians by 2025,4 yet the demand for care is increasing as insurance coverage expands under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which has so far added 16.9 million insured Americans to the market.5

In addition, nearly one in five Americans (62 million people) live in rural areas yet only 9 percent of all physicians and only half as many specialists per 100,000 residents practice in those settings.6 To control spending, expanded telehealth through virtual "visits," could efficiently deliver continuous care and remote monitoring at a fraction of the cost of in-person care.

Telehealth also supports population health initiatives where care managers are charged with improving treatment plan adherence among high-risk patients to avoid costly adverse events. Telehealth outreach efforts can help care managers stay connected to these higher risk patients to ensure they understand their treatment plans and can overcome obstacles to care.

Likewise, one-on-one video consultations or multi-party video encounters can help increase collaboration among care teams in different locations, such as those participating in an ACO. This further optimizes resources by reducing time and travel expenses, and it bridges the gap between clinician supply and patient demand.

Telehealth technology requires greater security
While the efficiency and physician access advantages of video web conferencing and telehealth applications are clear, protecting PHI, both from accidental data breaches and cyberattacks, is essential. To address this challenge, forward-looking provider organizations are considering cloud-based video web conferencing technology that includes safeguards such as encryption to help maintain compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule. A public or private cloud option, which would be installed behind the organization's firewall, can offer an enhanced level of security and control.

Another security feature to consider is a required secure-conference connection. This is an advantage of cloud-based systems over traditional, hardware-based video conferencing installations where configuration settings can be changed by remote employees without system monitoring, which could allow PHI to be sent unprotected over the Internet.

Robust, flexible password tools are also crucial as passwords are often forgotten or lost and need to be changed at regular intervals. For enhanced PHI protection, passwords would be required to join the conference, but also to download shared documents and meeting recordings when distributed from the cloud.

Even with rigorous security, video web conferencing technology needs to be easy and intuitive to use. Simplicity is especially crucial during patient encounters or care discussions so that providers are not distracted, but rather allowed to concentrate on the relevant patient care matters. For example, starting a video web conference session with one-click from a laptop would be ideal and pre-set controls would allow providers to focus on their patient or peer interaction.

Addressing healthcare challenges of today and tomorrow
While telehealth is growing to help solve the healthcare challenges of today, video web conferencing and other related technologies are also poised to address emerging issues such as seniors aging-in-place and consumerism.

Surveys consistently show seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible.7 In addition, the fastest growing demographic for social media are people 60 and older, but this age group also faces the greatest challenges in travelling to visit their providers.8 This population is ideal to embrace telehealth, especially simple to use technology they can access from home.

Another shift occurring is consumers have more financial stake in their healthcare decisions with out-of-pocket costs rising9 and with more Americans buying individual health plans than ever due to the ACA.10 Telehealth demand will grow as these consumer-minded patients seek convenience and value from providers. Consumer use of handheld devices and cloud-based services continues to skyrocket, and will drive further demand for telehealth services they can use while mobile.11

Healthcare organizations can confront today's and tomorrow's healthcare challenges by implementing secure, easy-to-use video web conferencing and telehealth applications that support quality patient care delivery and team collaboration. The result can be more engaged patients, more efficient care coordination and improved clinical outcomes.

About the author:
Gary Sibley is vice president of sales and marketing at Brother OmniJoin

1http://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/global-telemedicine-market-industry
2http://www.americantelemed.org/docs/default-source/policy/2016_50-state-telehealth-gaps-analysis--coverage-and-reimbursement.pdf?sfvrsn=2
3http://www.americantelemed.org/news-landing/2015/03/11/cms-approves-american-telemedicine-association-s-request-to-expand-telehealth-coverage
4https://www.aamc.org/newsroom/newsreleases/426166/20150303.html
5http://www.rand.org/pubs/external_publications/EP50692.html
6http://celebratepowerofrural.org/?page_id=30
7http://www.ncsl.org/documents/transportation/Aging-in-Place-brief.pdf
8http://www.forbes.com/sites/zinamoukheiber/2015/01/13/why-telemedicines-time-has-finally-come/#5890a3836ce0
9http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2015/09/22/382429.htm
10http://www.zanebenefits.com/blog/individual-market-growth
11http://www.mhealthnews.com/news/mobile-telehealth-market-set-surge

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