How Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals championed telehealth amid COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of telehealth at many U.S. hospitals and prompted temporary federal regulatory changes that allowed organizations greater flexibility in this area.

During a Sept. 29 webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Teladoc, Judd Hollander, MD, senior vice president of healthcare delivery innovation at Philadelphia-based Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, discussed the health system's telehealth service, JeffConnect, and shared how the health system's telehealth strategy has changed due to pandemic.

Five notes from the discussion:

1. Before the pandemic, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals was already offering telehealth through JeffConnect, including on-demand video visits, which allows patients to connect with emergency medicine physicians anytime. It also includes tele-triage (emergency department intake) as well as scheduled video visits where patients and clinicians connect virtually to discuss recovery progress after procedures or sicknesses. Additionally, virtual rounds allow patients to virtually connect family members with their care teams while they are in the hospital.

2. Telehealth services through JeffConnect have shown benefits, according to Dr. Hollander. For example, with tele-triage, Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals reduced the number of patients leaving the ED without being seen and, with on-demand video visits, saw savings of about $100 per encounter. Dr. Hollander said the health system also improved staffing efficiencies through scheduled video visits and improved access to patients' families via virtual rounds.

3. Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals modified JeffConnect due to COVID-19. Dr. Hollander said one of the first things the health system did was make its on-demand app available 24/7 to take care of COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients. The on-demand app helps set up testing and get testing results to patients. The health system also put tablets in every patient's room, added pulse oximetry to its remote monitoring program to measure oxygen levels in the blood, and converted scheduled in-person visits for non-COVID-19 issues to telemedicine visits. "We stuck with our platform because we knew they worked," explained Dr. Hollander. "We were fortunate [because] we were able to rapidly train providers. We're able to maintain metrics reporting."

4. Post-COVID-19, focus on communication and trust, advised Dr. Hollander. He said patients trusted Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals when services reopened during the pandemic due to the health system's communication about safety efforts and changing protocols. He noted that hospitals and health systems will also need to identify their patient volume expectations moving forward and gain more insights into payer practices regarding telehealth reimbursement.

5. Telemedicine can be viewed as a care delivery mechanism. Dr. Hollander said telemedicine is more about workflows and operations than technology. "The technology can help you achieve those workflows and operations," he explained. "But you need to know what you're trying to do before you invest in technology."

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