Telehealth technologies have been around for years. However, COVID-19 has dramatically increased the utilization of telehealth technologies to provide patient care. Additionally, last month, President Trump signed an executive order to make permanent the temporary flexibilities and reform for telehealth that had been granted at the start of the pandemic. These reforms will include allowing Medicare to cover more than 135 services via telemedicine, and these virtual appointments will have no additional cost. With all of the increased usage and the plan for continued support, it becomes essential to assess how telehealth changes the provision of care.
Before looking at particulars of care when using telehealth technologies, it is critical to note the importance of these technologies being integrated within an EHR system. When a telehealth solution is embedded within an EHR system, it creates an ease of usage for both provider and patient due to familiarity with the current user interface. Similarly, when integrated, providers can easily review patient information and create a summary of visits within the same application they are using for the virtual appointment. This reduces the chances of errors, improves overall provider efficiency, and enhances the overall continuity of care.
Utilizing technology to conduct a telehealth visit should have the overall goal of creating a patient-centric, streamlined synergy between the patient, care provider, and the technology. Telehealth technologies allow care providers to visit their patients virtually to assess or provide follow-up for a new or on-going condition. Since these are provided virtually, both the provider and the patient can remain in their own space while still providing and receiving the care they need. When looking at the provision of care when using telehealth technologies, we have included some of the advantages and disadvantages of using these virtual services.
Advantages of Telehealth Care:
- Access: The ability to conduct an appointment virtually removes geographical barriers and improves overall access to care.
- Convenience: The convenience that virtual visits provide can improve preventative care that some people may put off due to lack of time for in-person visits. Telehealth appointments can be conducted from anywhere, giving patients more options for fitting these into their schedules.
- Health Protection: Providing appointments virtually protects both the patient and the provider from outside germs that they may come in to contact with during in-person appointments. This benefit is particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic and for high-risk patients.
Disadvantages of Telehealth Care:
- Technology: Telehealth appointments via video conferencing require that the patient and the provider have a good internet connection and a smartphone or computer. This technology necessity can become difficult for people in rural areas or those without access to these services or devices. Telehealth appointments can be provided via telephone; however, they do not have the same beneficial qualities as seeing a provider/patient in a “face to face” manner via video conferencing.
- Data Protection: Providing telehealth services, puts patient data at a higher risk of cyberattacks. Patient data has been proven to be highly desired by hackers, making it very important to protect. Utilizing video to conduct patient visits is innately going to be at higher risk than in person because of the mode of transmission.
- Patient Exams: Not all examinations and appointments can be effectively administered using telehealth technologies. Sometimes an initial assessment may be done to determine the necessity of an in-person appointment. Still, some conditions/concerns will require coming to an office to be appropriately handled.
When looking at the overall provision of care, telehealth usage in tandem with in-person appointments can create a balanced and safe way to provide patient care. Telehealth is not a new concept, but its prevalence during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it important to take a closer look at and assess how patients can use this as a piece of their personal healthcare strategy. When implemented and used appropriately, telehealth has a chance to change and improve the provision of care.