Telemedicine has made the news lately, as more healthcare organizations adopt the service to help with social distancing. The primary means of preventing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is currently linked to stay-at-home orders in the majority of states in the nation. Telehealth technology enables clinicians to deliver care by using these tools to treat patients without having them come to an office, protecting both patients and practitioners from exposure to this potentially deadly disease. It is in this way that telemedicine services have emerged as a quiet hero against COVID-19.
But what is telemedicine and how can you use it in your practice to combat the spread of COVID-19? Does telehealth pay and can a small practice afford to implement the service? Does your practice team need to be technology savvy to implement telehealth technology?
This article will explain telemedicine and help your team understand how to use it to serve patients both during the coronavirus pandemic and after.
If your practice hasn’t leveraged telemedicine in the past, you’re not alone. While the majority of hospitals use telemedicine technology, smaller practices have failed to adopt these tools.
With the onset of COVID-19, organizations such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the use of telemedicine services. CNBC says virtual care encounters with telehealth technology will likely top the one billion mark this year. Some practices, facing new requirements curtailing non-essential visits report, “These virtual visits are literally a lifeline for the business of the practice, and then the real lifeline for the patients, because otherwise those people would not be able to be seen,” according to CNBC.
Understanding telemedicine definitions are the first step toward applying this technology in your practice. Telehealth tools facilitate the exchange of medical information between two or more parties that are not in the same location. Although the words, “telehealth” and “telemedicine” may seem interchangeable, telehealth is the broader technology category, while telemedicine services are designed to share information during a medical visit by using telecommunications technologies such as a smartphone and the Internet. If you’ve used generic videoconferencing services such as FaceTime or Zoom, you’ve experienced the basic technology that serves as the springboard for most telemedicine services.
The technology category of telehealth encompasses three types of services that can be applied in any practice setting:
- Store and Forward, or asynchronous telemedicine, uploads data to the Internet, stores it securely, or sends it to another provider. This type of service is typically used for provider consults when test results, medical images, or even biosignals are provided to a specialist for further consultation. This practice has been used for more than four decades for providers across the field, including pathology, radiology, and dermatology.
- Remote patient monitoring is particularly popular today as a tool to monitor the conditions of chronically ill patients. This type of telehealth uses a remote sensing device to electronically track and transmit patient data to a remote location. For example, a monitoring device could detect blood sugar levels, blood pressure, or even electrocardiograms and transmit the data to a hospital or other clinical provider. That data can then be utilized to modify a treatment plan.
- Real-time synchronous telehealth technology uses voice and video to connect a clinician and provider in a live feed over the Internet. These services use several different mediums to deliver the virtual visit, including your phone, or a laptop, desktop, tablet, or another digital device. These tools typically make use of the cameras and microphones built into these technologies; however, you can also add external mics and cameras for an even better experience.
Over the years, these types of virtual caregiving have effectively served patients in a variety of ways. Today, you can receive an orthopedic consult or post-operative wound care, monitor your high blood pressure, or do a COVID-19 consult all from the comfort of your home with common tools available to each of us. But are these services truly effective, and how can you use them in your practice?
Are Telemedicine Services Effective?
Well before the coronavirus was enforcing social distance, telemedicine had proven its time, labor, and cost effectiveness. Private payers and employers had ramped up their use of these services to reduce emergency room costs as well as to keep workers on the job longer by triaging on-the-job injuries that lead to costly worker’s compensation claims.
Anthem studied claims utilization for acute non-urgent care and found that telehealth saved 6% in episode of care costs by diverting their members from the ER. Another study showed that diverting unnecessary trips to the ER saves a health system up to $1500 per patient.
But it’s not just payers and hospitals reaping the benefits of cost savings when using telehealth. The studies show patients appreciate the convenience of care delivered to them instead of the time and money they spend traveling to a distant care provider.
Saving money is one thing, but is telehealth quality healthcare?
There are four decades of peer-reviewed studies that show the effectiveness of telehealth in meeting quality care standards. For example:
- One study showed telemedicine patients score lower for anxiety, depression, and stress and have 38% fewer ER inpatient admissions.
- Numerous studies documented by the American Hospital Association show patient satisfaction is high, inpatient admissions are lowered, survival rates are higher, and hospital lengths of stay are reduced with telehealth.
- Merritt Hawkins reports telehealth reduces the wait time for doctor appointments and increases the quality of care.
Telemedicine usage has trended upward over the past decade. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the usage of telehealth apps and other telemedicine tools has skyrocketed.
Using Telemedicine Services in Your Practice
If your practice is considering implementing telemedicine services, consider SpringHealthLive. Our telehealth app can help your practice fight COVID-19 by providing patient care without possible virus exposure. New CMS rules have loosened reimbursement restrictions, allowing virtual care wherever the patient is located, even in their homes.
SpringHealthLive is a telehealth app designed for ease of use, affordability, and HIPAA compliance. Our telemedicine tool helps even the smallest practice take advantage of proven technology to provide patients with a virtual house call. This is crucial during the COVID-19 epidemic for protecting at-risk patients from exposure to the virus in public settings. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends the use of telehealth tools like SpringHealthLive to protect patients and providers while offering quality healthcare services. Talk with our team today.