7 big ideas in telehealth

Telehealth adoption has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic as hospitals and health systems increase their virtual care programs and technologies to stay connected to patients.

Here are seven key quotes about telehealth adoption and the future of virtual healthcare that hospital and health system executives across the U.S. have shared with Becker's Hospital Review in October. 

Alistair Erskine, MD, chief digital health officer, Mass General Brigham (Boston): Mass General Brigham has been a leader … [in] making sure that researchers can compare notes and use the same data structures to collaborate internally, but also with external parties in a way that's safe, and then making sure there were ways for us to reach out to patients who were not contacting us, but we knew were at risk. We had ambulatory remote patient monitoring programs and virtual nurse navigators that called patients to make sure they were OK. These were all things that ended up being important in the short term and will be solidified over the longer term.

Alan Hsiao, MD, vice president and chief medical information officer at Yale New Haven (Conn.) Health: We're using predictive analytics to model our patient volume, our OR case load and how long a case might take and how long the expected admission rate for the length of the stay for that patient might be based on their comorbidities. This all helps us project what our volumes might be and whether we will have any available beds down the road. I think we need to get much better where things are prescriptive and that automatic interventions can kick in automatically so that a rapid response team or a nurse might be deployed to evaluate a patient who's getting sicker.

We are doing that on a small scale with our teleICU, but really need to do this for all of our patients in all of our beds. It's definitely a journey to get there, but I think the future in analytics will really help us take much better care of our patients and have computers are watching 24/7 for the smallest little changes that might be really significant, but might not be picked up by a human until later.

Jean Mixer, chief digital transformation officer and vice president of strategy of Boston Children's Hospital: Digital disruption is when an innovative business model or service enabled by technology outperforms historic models typically beginning with simpler services and with success, moves its way up to more complex services. A recent example is telehealth. Telehealth began with relatively simple urgent care visits. In the wake of COVID-19, this was rapidly expanded to more complex care like neurology and complex behavioral health. At Boston Children's, outpatient virtual visits grew from 1 percent of outpatient visits to 85 percent in the four weeks of March, and in the wake of ongoing social distancing remains at almost 50 percent of visits.

Lisa Sershen, chief digital officer, Westmed Medical Group (Purchase, N.Y.): We expanded our telehealth offerings from urgent care to all of our practice areas in response to the pandemic. Our virtual visit program gives our patients the autonomy to make appointments and have conversations with their doctor from the safety and comfort of their homes. With many people working from home right now, this is sometimes the most convenient and simple option to receive care.

Audrius Polikaitis, CIO of UI Hospital & Health Sciences System (Chicago): Looking into the crystal ball, I would venture a guess that 20 to 30 percent of healthcare delivery will be virtual within five years. That prognostication is, of course, tied to an assumption that there is no significant degradation to telehealth visit reimbursement. However, with time, I do expect that percentage to increase.

Richard Temple, vice president and CIO of Deborah Heart and Lung Center (Brown Mills, N.J.): In five years, I can foresee a better comfort level with virtual health as well as the maturing of 5G wireless networks increasing speed and dependability of virtual health tools. I think the future is bright for virtual health, but adoption will be a slower and steadier climb than a rapid transformation of the care landscape.

Tara Matthews, chief information security officer of Einstein Health Network (Philadelphia): The challenge for health systems and virtual products is to improve data sharing and interoperability, not to mention cybersecurity risks regarding networks, devices or otherwise. From a physician perspective, workflow redesign will be needed as we move toward a more consumer-centric model. In addition, [we will need] soft skill training to remain connected and provide empathy while engaged in the virtual setting.

More articles on telehealth:
3 key roadblocks preventing telehealth growth
Intermountain, Sanford aim to boost telehealth, digital health with merger
Viewpoint: 3 ways to retool Medicare coverage, reimbursement for the digital revolution

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