The healthcare sector has embraced technology and continues to look for ways it can benefit providers, doctors, and patients. One example of this deals with telehealth services as many are looking for ways to improve as well as making it more beneficial. According to a senior director of telehealth services, she feels that one needs to embrace ambiguity and complexity for these services to become successful.
The Challenges That Telehealth Faces
Before going any further, it is important to understand what telehealth refers to. Telehealth involves a “distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies. It allows long distance patient/clinician contact and care, advice, reminders education intervention, monitoring and remote admissions. As well as provider distance-learning; meetings, supervision, and presentations between practitioners; online information and health data management and healthcare system integration.
The importance of telehealth was brought up in a recent article appearing in Health Tech Magazine and mentions when trying to acquire a twenty-four-hour care model, it is important for the industry to address first reimbursement as well as other issues that deals with virtual care. During a discussion with a CEO of healthcare, the senior director of telehealth services at St. Luke’s Health System’s Krista Stadler noted the importance of six words that were said, “Passion for complexity, tolerance for ambiguity.”
Keeping these words on a sticky note that ever since has been kept on her desk, Stadler said that “That is telehealth in a nutshell. There’s no book out there, and even if there were, it would be outdated in two months because it’s a rapidly evolving environment.” She realizes that there are many challenges that nee to be dealt with that includes scheduling visits with remote patients and physicians, clinic nurses need to adapt workflows, equipment needs to be prechecked to ensure it is fully operational, health records needs to be managed, guaranteeing HIPAA compliance and being able to establish consent processes across facilities as well as compliant billing policies.
Stadler points out that “Technology, although complex, is the easy part. It is the building of processes that support the use of the technology that provide an additional level of scrutiny to ensure a safe, compliant and reliable program for the patient and provider.” Sadly, adoption of telehealth continues to be relatively low, as pointed out in the College of Health Information Management Executives (CHIME) Most Wired annual survey.
The report notes that “While this may seem low compared to adoption of other capabilities, it is actually high given that virtual care is still developing, and few patients have participated in it. The progress of virtual care may indicate that the industry is approaching around-the-clock connectivity as telehealth enables clinicians to provide more direct, more accessible care.” Unfortunately, this model of twenty-four-hour care will not occur unless many of the stubborn issues are tackled that plague telehealth.
Top Challenge for Telehealth Programs is Reimbursement
Reimbursement is a complex issue that needs to be resolved. Consider that in Alabama, the MainStreet Family Urgent Care is in the process of planning the rolling out of what it refers to as being micro clinics in far-flung parts of the state. The clinics will be thoroughly prepared in staff, rooms and equipment to treat incoming patients; however, the challenge is getting Medicaid or insurance coverage with no onsite provider.
Betsy Stewart, the marketing director for MainStreet Family Urgent Care, said that “Cost is a huge factor. It’s basically what’s limiting us.” While MainStreet is pondering a self-pay option for the micro clinics, this becomes increasingly difficult as the rural areas the clinics are focusing on serving are economically depressed.
Considered as a center of telehealth excellence, the University of Mississippi Medical Center has been working to build a research body influenced by telehealth and create a standard of the best practices. Michael Adcock, UMMC’s Center for Telehealth executive director, said that “We’re trying to find out what works, what doesn’t work, how people can grow these programs and build programs that really work for the patient.”