Historically, healthcare organizations have been somewhat reluctant to fully embrace telehealth as a viable option. There have been a number of reasons for that. However, in times of high demand for healthcare services, telehealth services are becoming increasingly popular. To facilitate telehealth visits, we’re currently providing RingCentral Office free of charge.
Why has there been a shift in thinking? This article explores seven reasons for the rising popularity of telehealth, and why things won’t return to the status quo after the current healthcare crisis abates.
Challenge 1: Getting patients to accept telehealth service
In the early days of telehealth, patients, by and large, had trouble understanding how high-quality healthcare could be delivered via telehealth. That is no longer the case, however.
Even before the current healthcare crisis, there was an uptick in telehealth visits. One reason telehealth services are in demand is that they offer convenience and improved patient experience.
Now, telehealth services are a must-have. A recent survey showed that 33 percent of patients would leave their current provider for another if their current provider did not offer telehealth services.
Challenge 2: Convincing healthcare providers of the benefits of telehealth
Another challenge that telehealth presented was that providers didn’t always see the benefits. In the wake of the current healthcare crisis, those benefits are clearer; telehealth visits reduce the risk to healthcare professionals and to patients.
For example, Jack could have a cough and a persistent fever. He would call his doctor, who would ask him about his symptoms. By accessing a telehealth visit, Jack doesn’t spread his virus to his doctor (or to the receptionist and other patients). After the current healthcare crisis, telehealth services will remain popular because they allow providers to work effectively while minimizing their risk of exposure.
Challenge 3: Navigating regulatory changes
Regulatory changes have significantly reduced the previous barriers to telehealth services. There are two reasons for this: the need to lower the risk to healthcare workers (as mentioned above) and to curb the use of personal protective equipment for only the most necessary cases.
Thanks to the CARES Act, the use of telehealth services is actually encouraged. Moreover, telehealth and Medicare can now go hand-in-hand. Telehealth services used to be restricted to patients who lived in rural areas, and only a physician in an institutional setting (such as a hospital) could provide them. Now, physicians can work from home and provide telehealth services to patients in any location, even patients who haven’t been seeing the provider for that long.
Additionally, HIPAA restrictions have been loosened. The use of applications that aren’t HIPAA-compliant won’t lead to penalties. (Pro tip: Select a telehealth solution that is already HITRUST CSF certified. Given the popularity of telehealth services, it makes sense to invest in the right telehealth apps now, so you’re ready to meet demand later.)
Challenge 3: Getting paid for telehealth services
In addition to regulatory changes, the reimbursements for telehealth services are now much better than they were previously. Before the current healthcare crisis, providers wouldn’t receive the same amount of compensation for telehealth visits as they would for in-office appointments. Telehealth and Medicare were also problematic for providers. There were very few telehealth services covered by Medicare, and those services were compensated at a lower rate than in-office visits—if they were reimbursed at all.
Now, Medicare, Medicaid, and commercial payers are reimbursing physicians at the same rate for telehealth services as in-office visits. The current healthcare crisis has brought telehealth services into the spotlight; public and private insurers see its potential to reduce future medical spending and will be more likely to support this option in the future.
Challenge 4: Limited technology choices for telehealth
Delivering telehealth services proved challenging to providers at large organizations and smaller clinics because there weren’t great options for telehealth apps. They were expensive, they required investment in hardware and software, and they weren’t user-friendly. However, that situation has changed.
Today, cloud healthcare communications platforms allow providers to deliver telehealth services quickly and effectively. Thanks to the cloud, you don’t have to invest in expensive hardware, and delivering telehealth services is easy. Additionally, HITRUST CSF-certified cloud healthcare communications platforms are secure and support HIPAA-covered entities with their HIPAA compliance, making them a great choice both now and in the future.
Challenge 5: Perceived extra burdens in offering telehealth services
Providers and healthcare organizations have also been wary of adopting telehealth services because there was a concern that telehealth services would create a burden on providers and their staff to deliver services they didn’t have the bandwidth to offer; however, that hasn’t been the case at all.
Telehealth services actually reduce the burden on providers and healthcare organizations. Because patients are staying home to receive telehealth services, they’re not in crowded waiting rooms. Telehealth services also keep providers safe, because they can contact patients from home and reduce their exposure to bacteria and viruses, so they can continue working.
Challenge 6: Worry over how to leverage telehealth services effectively
Providers and healthcare organizations have typically shied away from telehealth services because they weren’t sure how to leverage them effectively. After all, patients accepted the need for in-office visits, so what was the need to use telehealth solutions?
The current healthcare crisis has compelled providers and healthcare organizations to quickly determine how to use telehealth services effectively and efficiently. Use cases abound for telehealth services, and providers—as well as hospitals—are quickly figuring out how to best deliver telehealth services to reduce risk and preserve the continuity of care.
Challenge 7: Unclear business case for telehealth services
Previously, there wasn’t a particularly great business case for telehealth services. Patients were satisfied with in-office visits, while regulations as well as reimbursement issues made it more lucrative to see patients at a clinic or hospital.
That situation has changed; there’s now a very strong business case to deliver telehealth services. While some things will change after the current healthcare crisis, others won’t—patients will still want the convenience of telehealth services, while insurers realize that telehealth is an effective way to communicate with patients. See how cloud communications can transform your healthcare organization. Request a demo.
Originally published Jun 15, 2020, updated Apr 23, 2021