What COVID-19 Taught Us About Telehealth and its (Now Permanent) Role in Patient Care

The following is a guest article by Michael Morgan and Andrew Barbash, MD from Updox.

Prior to COVID-19, telemedicine was a novelty for the majority of providers. Concerns over privacy, technology costs and reimbursements limited the ability of hospitals to integrate virtual visits into routine care. Likewise, many independent practices struggled with how to fully incorporate telehealth into their businesses.

Within a few weeks of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, that all changed. It became clear that telehealth would be a necessity for providers, many of whom would have otherwise had to suspend services while patients hunkered down. Now, the industry is turning to face the next hurdle of making temporary telehealth provisions permanent and weighing what role telehealth should play as part of the ongoing healthcare experience.

Indeed, many providers are still grappling with the best ways to operationalize telehealth into their workflows, such as how to use text messaging to collect essential information, when and how to use video in a way that complements in-person visits and how to leverage technology to manage follow-up care.

In our experience, achieving the right balance of virtual and in-person appointments rests in the ability of providers to visualize the patient journey and quickly resolve roadblocks that negatively impact their overall experience. Together, representing a leading HIPAA-compliant telehealth technology company and one of the nation’s oldest full-time telehealth practices, we’ve pioneered the use of telehealth and demonstrated that it’s possible to provide quality virtual care that addresses common challenges even after our healthcare system returns to a new normal.

Lessons We’ve Learned From Years of Practice

The first thing healthcare providers of all sizes should know is that using video in an effective way is not about technology, but about workflow. Video chat needs to be easy to use for patients, doctors and staff alike. If it requires an app that patients have to download or troubleshoot, impeding time to care and forcing doctors to play the role of IT, it won’t work for most practices.

Likewise, one of the biggest myths or misconceptions regarding telehealth is that good implementations require expensive hardware. Nothing is further from the truth, and to make telehealth effective operationally, telehealth should be as simple and easy as a phone call. In fact, to further personalize the patient/provider experience, practices should even consider replacing routine phone calls with video calls.

Next, so that communication with patients is well documented and streamlined, try to consolidate messages within one platform that’s integrated with the practice’s EHR. Integration is vital because otherwise, doctors and staff will end up wasting precious time logging in and out of different systems, sapping productivity and making daily processes a chore.

Finally, patients appreciate when telehealth solutions make it easier to schedule an appointment and when follow-ups are more streamlined than traditional phone calls and in-office visits. With traditional in-person visits, for example, patients often complain when a doctor is running behind and they have to sit in the waiting room. Using telehealth, a practice can easily let the patient know exactly when to logon – saving them time, and enabling the physician to maximize time spent with each patient and see more patients within the day.

Similarly, one of the best ways to improve the patient experience is to automate in-take and post-visit processes using personalized messages to individual patients. Doing so can not only help staff cut out admin time spent chasing down paperwork and calling patients, but can also make virtual care feel more personal – leading to higher patient satisfaction and increased adherence, which are all vital in today’s changing healthcare landscape.

Developing a Telehealth Plan for the Long-term

Incorporating telehealth and other virtual care solutions is the new reality in healthcare, which all providers need to consider as part of their long-term care strategy. To be effective, that strategy needs to consider the patient journey and operationalize processes around improving the patient experience, both in and out of the office.

As telehealth goes from novelty to necessity, providers will need to strike the right balance to meet the needs of their patients. Adjusting to the ‘new normal’ means embracing new digital solutions and offering a mix of online and in-person patient engagement. What that plan looks like will vary between physicians, with some trial involved, but the end result is a healthcare system that’s more accessible, flexible and modern.

About Michael Morgan, CEO of Updox

With a successful track record in helping organizations use technology to transform the way healthcare is delivered, Mike has more than 25 years of healthcare leadership within software, behavioral health, and HIT organizations. Updox was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies in America for the past five consecutive years.

About Andrew Barbash, MD

Dr. Barbash is a neurologist who practices full time with one of the nation’s largest telemedicine service providers. He is actively involved in the arenas of eHealth, mobile health and telehealth, and virtual care. He created The Apractis Clinic to facilitate collaborative care with an emphasis on solving the challenges of primary-specialty care consults, and with a particular interest on the needs of safety net clinics for the underinsured. Dr. Barbash is one of the original founders of Updox and uses all of its workflow tools on a daily basis to streamline the virtual care process.