At least one good thing is coming from the COVID-19 pandemic. By necessity, 2020 has seen huge gains in telemedicine utilization as providers and patients seek to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. This telemedicine revolution is transforming the provider-patient relationship, both positively and negatively, including the unintended consequences of such rapid adoption of telemedicine. Industry specialists are finding that the adoption of Electronic Health Records (EHR), with its unplanned side effects, provides a relevant and useful model for smoothing the transition to telemedicine for both patients and doctors. Based on experiences with the transition to EHRs, analysts suggest implementing strategies such as these:
1. Protect the provider-patient relationship.
Telemedicine inserts a screen between the clinician and patient. Some patients actually find the telemedicine visits more reassuring than in-person visits because telemedicine forces the physician to look at the patient through the camera; during in-person visits, some doctors listen to patients without focusing their gaze on them in order to record notes on a computer.
Unfortunately, this business model only works when the patient has access to the devices and internet connection needed to transmit data. Concerns have been raised that the telemedicine revolution may actually widen the gap between the haves and have-nots. For example, a study from a New York City health system discovered that Blacks, Hispanics, and patients over the age of 65 used telemedicine far less frequently than Whites or Asians. Both patients in remote rural areas and disadvantaged patients living in an urban environment face challenges to telemedicine adoption such as lack of high-speed internet service, congested networks in the cities, having appropriate devices, and lack of an interpreter. In these cases, it may behoove the medical organizations to lend tablets to patients and/or assist in creating more Wi-Fi hot spots, as demonstrated by UC San Diego Health, Washington State, and the Veteran’s Health Administration. Of course, such involvement relies on consistent and adequate reimbursement to overcome financial issues.
2. Maintain interoperability.
As EHR adoption increased, a new problem was revealed: To get the most benefit from an EHR system, *all* of a patient’s medical history and visits need to be accessible through that EHR. Since different medical organizations and for-profit telemedicine companies tend to use their own preferred software system, a patient’s medical history may be split between his/her PCP, urgent care center, and telemedicine provider. Because the EHRs are not connected to one another, none of the providers will have a complete picture of the patient’s previous medications, tests, visits, and so on. Without an information sharing process in place, providers may unknowingly duplicate test orders or prescribe a new medication that could interact poorly with an ongoing medication regimen. At this rate, continuity of care and communication remain pipe dreams for the telemedicine revolution.
3. Avoid creating extra work.
As mentioned above, a lack of interoperability is likely to lead to duplicate information and requests from different providers. As telemedicine visits become part of the “new normal,” medical centers would be wise to designate blocks of a physician’s schedule for telemedicine visits instead of adding to their already hectic workloads. “Virtual rooming assistants” can greet patients and take histories, then notify providers when patients are ready to be seen.
4. Engage patients and their families.
By incorporating telemedicine into remote monitoring programs, clinicians can keep a close eye on patients who do not need inpatient services but would benefit from additional attention. Patients and their family members can measure their vitals, symptoms, and other parameters from home; anything concerning would prompt further action from the providers. Through telemedicine visits, providers will be able to see a patient’s home and living situation, which can help the provider tailor the treatment plan to meet the patient’s needs.
The telemedicine revolution, spurred by the pandemic, raises health care to the next level: meeting patients in their home environments rather than forcing them to travel to a medical clinic. However, as with any rapid adoption of technology, care must be taken to sidestep potential problems that could emerge while implementing telemedicine into workflows.
To learn more, visit Harvard Business Review here.