Uncovering opportunities to improve existing telehealth workflows
Telehealth use by physicians surged during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing a reliable means of safely delivering care and preserving medical resources. When patients reacted favorably, doctors envisioned a future of increased telehealth reach.
Today, an estimated 85 percent of physicians currently use telehealth to some extent, according to an American Medical Association (AMA) survey. Nearly 70 percent describe their organization’s telehealth program as being “sustainable” and integrated with in-person care. Nonetheless, through better incorporation of technology, there’s potential upside in the following areas:
- Patient monitoring. Only 8 percent of AMA-responding physicians use remote patient monitoring (RPM) tools (e.g., smartphone apps, blood pressure cuffs, pulse oximeters, scales) with patients in their homes. Further, 76 percent say RPM data reporting lacks integration — it’s often handled verbally over the phone or via email.
- EHR integration. When asked which platforms they use to deliver telehealth services, physicians still rely most often on audio-only telephone calls. Use of an electronic health record (EHR) module ranks below video-sharing platforms such as Zoom. In fact, 43 percent of physicians report that they can’t directly access telehealth technology from their EHR.
- Patient access. Over time, practices expect to offer patients more telehealth services. Patients especially appreciate not having to travel or take time off work for medical appointments. And while some patients will always prefer in-person visits, doctors place priority on overcoming limitations in patient access to telehealth technology as well as patients’ overall digital literacy. As one respondent explained, “Advancing telehealth without providing patients with the appropriate technology or education to use it leaves those patients behind.”
Opportunities for telehealth workflow development
Aside from those specific challenges, physicians worry about how they’ll cover expenses of building out new telehealth offerings. Rollback of COVID-19 waivers, coverage and payment policies, lack of insurer coverage and low reimbursement rates are still top-level concerns.
Related story: 4 lessons for health systems as telehealth use plateaus
In the meantime, physician practices can unlock opportunities to improve existing telehealth workflows. For example, practices should consider scheduling separate blocks of time for in-person and telehealth visits; establishing a formal process for telehealth patient check-in and check-out; instituting telehealth-specific training for care team members; exploring technology that presents a “digital waiting room” environment; and rethinking office and exam room space to facilitate telehealth visits.
Telehealth has established a strong foothold on the front lines of care. Assuming some alignment of payment policies and investments, physicians are motivated to further expand services into disease management, care coordination and specialty care. Improved interoperability between platforms and support technology, along with better practice workflows, will help streamline emerging telehealth services.
Frank Irving is a Philadelphia-based content writer and communications consultant specializing in healthcare, technology and sports.