It's time to meet patients where they are: Telehealth in the age of COVID-19

Amid the new coronavirus pandemic, U.S. hospitals and providers are racing to find new ways to deliver care to their communities without furthering the spread of COVID-19. They are turning to telehealth, among other strategies, to provide care without endangering patients or themselves.

"We believe the way patients and providers connect and interact will be forever changed because of this pandemic," said Jessica Long, assistant vice president for FollowMyHealth®, a patient engagement platform from Allscripts, during a March 24 webinar. The webinar was hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and sponsored by Allscripts.

While telehealth strategies are certainly not new, healthcare providers are increasingly relying on them during this pandemic, which may lead to the wider adoption of telehealth among healthcare providers and consumers alike after the pandemic has subsided.

Today's consumers have been conditioned to expect convenience and seamless access to information and services. Industries like e-commerce have made the consumer experience more convenient than ever before, and this convenience has helped companies working in this space thrive. Large e-commerce-only companies, Ms. Long said, are not hugely popular because they carry the best products — it's the customer service they provide that keeps these companies thriving.

"We've all been there, we've done it," she said. "You think about the last time you made a purchase online. You probably bought something at work that a co-worker had on their desk, a new gadget perhaps, you asked where they got it, they said online. You ordered it with one click and it was on your doorstep in a day or two. If you loved it, you told the world about it with your own review because consumer opinion is very important."

The FollowMyHealth platform offers a similar experience, said Ms. Long, and it is vender-agnostic, which means it can be used with several different EHR systems. The platform has several features, including telehealth capabilities.

Telehealth is already popular among healthcare consumers. A 2017 Accenture survey shows that 76 percent of consumers would be willing to have a follow-up exam conducted virtually and 70 percent would participate in a virtual visit for a nonurgent health issue.

Telehealth creates a virtual barrier between provider and patient and between patients themselves, who would otherwise be seated next to each other in waiting rooms, said Skyler Wason, director of product management at FollowMyHealth. The virtual barrier is particularly needed during the pandemic as it helps slow the transmission of the virus and protect people, especially those with underlying conditions.

In the long term, telehealth services can help lower emergency department and urgent care wait times, reduce appointment no-shows, and improve outcomes, as easier access to care could help ensure patients stick to treatment plans.

One problem with providing telehealth services on the provider side, however, was the fact that getting reimbursed could be difficult. But the current pandemic has changed that, Mr. Wason said.

Congress passed a new law that extends payment for telehealth visits during emergency periods. Currently, payment has been extended through Sept. 30. CMS also expanded telehealth benefits for Medicare beneficiaries. Most private insurers cover telehealth, but reimbursement depends on individual policies.

The FollowMyHealth platform offers three telehealth capabilities:

1. Email visits. Patients complete a form based on their chief compliant and provide their preferred pharmacy and a callback number. Providers can customize the form to create questionnaires based on the most common conditions they see, said Mr. Wason. The platform sends the details it has collected to the EHR, where providers can review and respond, which is sent back to the patient via the platform.

2. Scheduled video visits. Patients can meet with a provider via video conferencing at a pre-determined time, Mr. Wason said. Providers can join the visit using the FollowMyHealth dashboard and review documents and charts in the EHR. Follow-up notes are sent back to the patient through the platform.

3. On-demand video visits. This works like an urgent care service, except the visits are virtual, according to Mr. Wason. The healthcare organization can set specific hours when patients can sign on via the platform, join a virtual queue and meet with the first available provider. Similar to the scheduled video visit feature, providers can review documents and charts in the EHR and send notes via the platform.

FollowMyHealth has also just released a new feature that enables organizations to use its on-demand video visits functionality without a FollowMyHealth account, making access even easier for patients who may not have signed up for an organization’s patient portal. (Organizations can utilize this service on its own, even if they don’t have FollowMyHealth as their patient portal provider.)

The platform can also help organizations educate patients during new coronavirus pandemic. For example, organizations can use the platform to provide pre-appointment screenings for suspected COVID-19 patients. The platform can help providers identify potential cases and give them specific instructions in accordance with their symptoms if they need to come in.

Being able to offer telehealth services to patients is more than just convenience though, it's about patient engagement and encouraging collaboration between patients and providers, said Ms. Long.

"Catch patients on the device they touch hundreds of times per day [and] ask for action in a way that doesn't get ignored … expand your outreach to patients in a way that promotes a collaborative environment with their care team," she said.

Watch the webinar here and learn more about how Allscripts is helping providers combat the spread of COVID-19 with our leading-edge virtual solutions here.

 

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