Hoy Garvin, Executive Director of Telehealth and Polysomnograph, Community Health Network
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, health systems sought a virtual means to increase ambulatory access for the same daycare. Many barriers prevented digital access from being a financially viable option for health system growth. Some of these barriers were inconsistent reimbursement from payors, slow patient adoption, and high cost of implementation. As a result, many health systems were left squinting to see a return on their ambulatory telehealth investments.
The pandemic has crumbled several impediments to ambulatory Telemedicine. The pandemic has increased telehealth adoption among patients. Whether the adoption has risen from a lack of open brick and mortar locations or patient fear of COIVD exposure within an office setting, it is clear that adoption in the outpatient setting has risen. Physicians are seeing the benefit of incorporating a digital component as a means of their care delivery model. Payors are consistently reimbursing for telehealth. Finally, the technology barrier to entry has fallen. Some health systems were utilizing Zoom or WebEx to rapidly initiate telehealth programs.
There are two specific areas within telemedicine that health systems should be focusing on as they begin to scale their programs. Artificial intelligence and peripheral devices are two areas that can enhance your telemedicine programs ‘ability to provide ambulatory access.
Artificial Intelligence creates a fast pass for established patients.
In a fast-moving culture, time and convenience are everything. We no longer tolerate waiting a week to receive our recent online purchase from halfway around the world. In entertainment, our society no longer waits for next week’s episode when it can be streamed today. A trip to the bank has been replaced by the app, which allows us to make transactions on the go. Why should our low-acuity healthcare transactions be any different?
Asynchronous care and other forms of artificial intelligence (AI) allow patients to submit symptoms and answer triage questions digitally. Patients are not restricted to an appointment or waiting room. Patients can continue their lives at home, work, or on the go. These asynchronous visits are reviewed by a physician or advance practice provider, where a treatment plan can be submitted back to the patient.
Urgent care and Primary Care offices have seen low-level acuity visits in a walk-in or scheduled environment for decades. AI allows health systems to scale same-day access without the expense of brick and mortar. No longer is a health system’s capacity limited by the number of exam rooms in place. Many electronic medical record systems have features ready today for deployment. Most telehealth vendors have capabilities built-in ready for implementation.
The value to a healthcare organization utilizing this technology is simple: retain more patient visits and reduce leakage to competitors by removing frustrating long wait times. Expanding access without a costly brick and mortar overhead provides a health system with the ability to focus that capital on patient outcomes and provider well-being.
Peripheral Devices and Wearables.
Peripheral devices and wearables are enhancing patient care all over the world. Many health systems are discharging patients (who are at high risk for readmission) home with monitors and devices. This technology diminishes unnecessary readmission risk while allowing physicians to view patient data collected from wearable devices remotely. Peripheral devices enhance the telemedicine encounter for physicians. A patient being consulted for follow up post-discharge can record chest and lung sounds, take high definition videos and pictures, and articulate how they feel in “real time” to their provider. In many cases, this encounter can be recorded and stored in the health system’s electronic medical system for use by other providers.
The cost of entry for these devices is low. Wearables and peripheral devices commonly cost below the $15,000 average burden upon a health system for unnecessary hospital readmission. Transferring the data collected between specialists can maximize physicians’ efficiency for a large number of patients across their panel.
In closing, the advances in technology have come a long way over the past few years. However, Ambulatory Telehealth tech’s more rapid development has been in patient adoption, pay or acceptance, and physician engagement. The culmination of these events is making telehealth tech a more profitable venture for health systems seeking to expand access across their ambulatory enterprises.