Telehealth: Ready for today’s pandemic, a replacement for tomorrow’s in-office visits

In his debut book, Malcolm Gladwell talked about tipping points, the period in time when an idea or trend galvanizes so completely that its spread is unstoppable.

It’s “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire,” he wrote in his 2000 book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

When we look back on the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ll recall many unfortunate consequences. But it may also become known as the tipping point for telehealth technology worldwide.

From now on, many more patients will begin to access healthcare from outside the four walls of a physician practice or a hospital, and that is a very good thing.

Telehealth, finally, has come of age.

Right now, the reason for telehealth use are obvious and urgent. It delivers three needed benefits for treating patients during this pandemic:

  • Immediate patient access to a care provider
  • Physical barrier between patient and provider to slow virus transmission
  • Huge time savings for physician offices so more people can be seen

The CDC recommends that healthcare facilities explore alternatives to face-to-face triage to reduce unnecessary healthcare visits and prevent transmission of respiratory viruses. This includes instructing patients to use other available options through their patient portal and proactively reaching out to patients about what to do should they become ill with symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath. But, that’s not the only reason to implement telehealth.

Telehealth’s past and future

A few years ago, I conducted some research to help the Allscripts team with some anecdotal and empirical evidence about telehealth users. I really had to search to find active users, but once I did find them, users praised the technology overwhelmingly.

Even then, care providers saw great value in using virtual visits for follow-up patient encounters to ease clinician burden, streamline workflows and deliver greater patient access. A common use case for many of these earlier adopters was to assign nurse practitioners and physician assistants to helm telehealth programs for their organizations.

Not only do we need to see these COVID-19 patients now in a way that prevents exposure, but other patients need to be seen without exposure too. Instead of having those well patients cancel follow-up visits, why not schedule a video visit and keep the patient at home and well?

Going forward, telehealth will be so commonplace that we’ll wonder what we did without it. That’s the pathway for many technologies: Initial perhaps slow adoption, then significant foothold, and finally ubiquity.

Telehealth’s benefits are many, but I think one of its highest and best benefits is its ability to meet patients where they are. Whether sitting in their living room or in a nursing home, you have the opportunity to meet with them over a mobile device and really see each other face-to-face.

Legislation helps pave the way for telehealth and seniors

On March 17, Medicare announced it will expand telemedicine coverage nationwide, enabling seniors to receive care from home. Previously, reimbursement for telehealth visits was limited to the critical access market, mainly rural communities where access to care providers is sparse.

Now, millions of seniors can get the care they need while following the CDC guidelines around the current pandemic that they stay at home. The coronavirus risks are much higher for older patients.

For example, a diabetes follow-up can still occur, only it will happen over a mobile phone and the provider can now bill for it. Under the old rules, these visits had to occur at a medical office or specialized facility.

FollowMyHealth offers streamlined telehealth implementation

While no one wanted to see this type of tipping point, giving patients safe access to the care they need is a positive. Given the choice, I’m sure we’d all rather implement telehealth in our own time. However, it’s important to meet this challenge swiftly and lean on the tools we already have available.

One example, Allscripts created a specialized plan for clients to swiftly implement telehealth at their organizations through its EHR-agnostic patient engagement platform, FollowMyHealth®. This expedited implementation includes a step-by-step client decision workbook, 10 remote project hours for training and set up, and specialized COVID-19 form and alert verbiage for patient outreach, enabling clients to be up and running in a matter of days.

By converting appointments to telehealth, the solution can help limit no-shows and cancellations while delivering care to those who need it. I encourage you to take a look at the resources available to you from your trusted partners. We’re all in this together, and we will get through it.

Find out here about all the virtual solutions Allscripts offers to help you combat the spread of COVID-19.

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