Managing clinical information when telehealth is the new normal



It seems like only yesterday that telehealth projects were designated to the “nice to have” category on most healthcare providers’ lengthy IT checklists. Many health systems simply didn’t consider implementing solutions to enable virtual patient visits as a top priority.

There were ample reasons for this sentiment. First, there was empirical research that suggested patients weren’t interested in engaging with their providers via telehealth, including this survey that showed 82 percent of consumers did not use virtual visit services.

And then, of course, there were the reimbursement barriers that discouraged provider use of telehealth, paying for these services at lower rates, if at all.

COVID-19 highlights the need for virtual health options

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the industry did a complete 180° with regard to telehealth. With the virus placing many countries into lockdown, healthcare providers were forced to identify new ways to examine and treat patients while limiting the risk of spreading the infection.

Telehealth became the ideal solution.

In response, government bodies and private payers loosened reimbursement restrictions related to telehealth. For example, Medicare is now promoting use of these services by allowing providers to waive copays and deductibles for all telehealth services.

Many states and private payers are even reimbursing for telehealth at the same rates as in-person visits. This includes visits to establish a new patient/provider relationship. Furthermore, major world health authorities, such as the CDC and WHO now advocate the use of telehealth to monitor patients and reduce risk during the pandemic.telehealth appointment

Telehealth is booming and is here to stay

As a result of these compelling drivers, hospitals and health systems around the world have quickly implemented telehealth solutions. Even more telling is the fact that many healthcare providers have made virtual health visits their preferred (and sometimes only) method of patient interaction during this public health crisis.

For example, the AMA has reported 1,000-fold increases in telehealth visits by some physician practices and health systems throughout the country, with some facilities going from just a handful of doctors using telehealth to nearly all of them.

While COVID-19 has served as the impetus for this monumental shift toward telehealth, it’s unlikely that use of the technology will dwindle to pre-pandemic numbers after the crisis passes. Virtual visits may not remain the preferred method for all patient exams, but these interactions will undoubtedly remain a fixture in healthcare moving forward. After all, there are tremendous cost, resource and convenience benefits to leveraging telehealth.

Now that providers and patients are experiencing these benefits first-hand, they’ll be hard-pressed to go back to the way things were.

Telehealth requires a change in information flow

Telehealth is here to stay, and in many ways, will become the new normal for care delivery. The technology not only changes the way patients and providers interact, it also changes clinical workflows. Without in-person visits, the way clinical information is collected, accessed and exchanged must evolve to be more digital in nature.

The following are a few key areas to consider as providers enhance their clinical information systems to address new virtual demands:

  • Remote patient monitoring

One of the advantages of a traditional in-person health exam is a doctor can easily capture all of a patient’s vitals (e.g. blood pressure, pulse, weight, blood oxygen levels, etc.) using the equipment in his or her office. A virtual visit makes securing this information much more difficult. That is, unless providers start equipping their patients with remote monitoring devices.

They can deploy tools such as smart scales, glucose meters, blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters and more to patients to allow for the remote real-time collection of vital health information either during a virtual visit – or any time before or after. While it is doubtful that this will become the norm for most patients, it does provide an attractive option for tracking and monitoring high-risk patients and the chronically ill.

  • Patient portal integration

With the rise in telehealth, EMR patient portals will become an even more important conduit for interaction between patients and providers. Health systems should seek to add the following capabilities to their patient portals to facilitate the flow of information in a digital environment:

Electronic forms completion and electronic signatures

With telehealth, the exchange of paper registration documents and other forms becomes decidedly inconvenient. Plus, it tends to defeat the purpose of a virtual visit in the first place.

Enabling patients to complete and sign required forms electronically via a patient portal prior to a telehealth session is a crucial element to ensuring a positive virtual experience. Further empowering patients to electronically upload referral documents and even images directly to the EMR via a portal can make the experience even more convenient.    

Medical image access and exchange

Allowing patients to digitally view, access and share their medical images (X-rays, CT Scans MRIs, etc.) via the patient portal may also be something to consider as telehealth becomes the norm. Not only does this capability provide patients with an added level of insight into their health, it empowers them to share these images with other stakeholders in their care continuum without the need for the provider to burn a CD or DVD to transport the images.

The new era of telehealth

Hyland Healthcare has always been dedicated to facilitating the digital transformation of healthcare providers and payers. Ensuring this transformation takes emerging telehealth factors into account has become one of our top priorities.

Integrating our OnBase content services platform with patient portals like Epic MyChart is an ongoing focus. We’ve also successfully begun integrating our NilRead enterprise viewer in a similar fashion to make diagnostic images available to patients via the EMR portal.

For a limited time, we’re allowing providers to leverage these integrations for free to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re entering a new era of healthcare delivery and we must ensure our technology systems evolve to effectively address new demands.

Ken Congdon has expertise in the healthcare technology industry and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.
Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon

Ken Congdon has expertise in the healthcare technology industry and has been a contributor to the Hyland blog.

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