By Mark Kestner, MD
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the healthcare industry needed to pivot to continue serving patients consistently. One of the ways they did this was via telehealth services. Providers could reach homebound and quarantined patients with virtual visits and keep people safe from crowded waiting rooms.
Telehealth was widely adopted during the pandemic and the technology shows no signs of waning in popularity. According to a Harris poll, 76% of respondents were likely to continue utilizing telehealth services after the pandemic.
With this continued demand, telehealth companies, app creators, platforms and healthcare providers will have to make changes to help the technology remain viable.
Granting greater access to telehealth is probably the most significant change the industry will need to make in the coming years. During COVID, some federal and regulatory changes took place for emergency purposes. One of these changes was eliminating the “originating site rule”. The elimination of this rule allowed physicians to be paid regardless of where the patient resides. This change opened the door for greater access to patients everywhere.
Increasing access for rural patients is also important. This will take a federal push to expand broadband access for rural areas or areas with spotty service.
COVID also saw an increase in the use of audio-only healthcare for those who do not have access to phones with video capability or computers.
Lastly, creating greater access to prescription medication via telehealth visits is paramount. The Ryan Haight Act was in place pre-pandemic. This act required patients seeking opioid treatment to have a face-to-face visit first. During the pandemic, this act was suspended. Keeping this act suspended and increasing the capabilities of telehealth prescribing would increase access to controlled prescriptions for people who need them most.
Ease of Use
One of the barriers to telehealth success is its ease of use for some patients. Adopting platforms that allow for one-click easy access and no complicated downloads or installs is a start. Many patients who rely on telehealth access may not be computer savvy enough to navigate a complex platform system. Truthfully, your platform may only be as good as its least tech-savvy users’ ability to figure it out. If it’s too complicated, you’re not going to see a platform or software last.
It will be up to telehealth companies and creators to consistently innovate new and easier access to healthcare providers.
Safety and Security
HIPAA compliance and secure information is at the top of most patients’ concerns concerning telehealth. It can be daunting to exchange sensitive information over the internet, not knowing who can hear you or access your records.
Keeping tabs on remaining HIPAA compliant is going to be integral to the success of telehealth companies. Utilizing security measures such as auto-expire, personalized links to visits will help reassure patients and ensure continued telehealth use.
If the telehealth industry wants to secure utilization across the board, they will need to prepare and innovate. Healthcare will need to adapt to changing regulations, patient demand, and a pandemic scenario always in flux.
This preparation can happen through patient and physician training, marketing telehealth systems in a way patients can understand, and seeking out new ways to bring telehealth to the healthcare industry in a way that is easier, faster, and more affordable for providers.
Telehealth isn’t going anywhere. Its presence in the healthcare space is likely permanent. Though, its permanence doesn’t mean it needs to remain stagnant in terms of innovation or ability to change with the times. If telehealth companies and physicians work together and keep one another accountable to flexibility, telehealth is sure to only grow in use and popularity.
Mark Kestner, MD and Chief Innovation Officer at MediGuru, talks about how the telehealth industry must change and adapt to sustained demand for its services following the massive uptick in use amid the COVID-19 pandemic.