It’s no surprise that the current global pandemic has accelerated telehealth’s adoption. More and more patients are looking to manage their care remotely and early indications point to the increased use of telehealth services being here to stay even after economies reopen. That said, you might find yourself asking, “which telehealth services should my organization be offering?”
It’s a fair question considering the various options that exist in the market but we hope to be able to provide some guidance below.
Categories of Virtual Care
Under the telehealth services umbrella there exists a collection of tools to help you in your approach to Virtual Care. These tools typically fall into three main buckets, Synchronous Telehealth, Remote Patient Monitoring, and Asynchronous Telehealth.
Let’s explore each in more detail.
When most people think of Telehealth or Virtual Care, they picture real-time virtual visits. A virtual visit is an example of Synchronous Telehealth as interactions between the physician and the patient happen simultaneously. While videoconferencing is the medium most associated with Synchronous Telehealth, live phone visits and real-time secure messaging or chat are also tools that fall into this category.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic less than 1% of all patient visits were virtual. However, according to the Advisory Board, this number exploded to almost 80% of all visits at the height of the pandemic lockdowns across the United States in 2020. This number has now found a more stable range, hovering between 5-15% of all visits as of early 2021. The widespread belief is that much of the increase in adoption will be sustained going forward.
LEARN HOW CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL LOS ANGELES INCORPORATED
REMOTE SECOND OPINIONS INTO THEIR TELEHEALTH OFFERINGS
That said, practices need to determine how and when to integrate Synchronous Telehealth into their care pathway. Remember, just because a visit can be conducted virtually doesn’t always mean that it should. For instance, it is not always appropriate to substitute a Synchronous Telehealth visit in place of an in-person encounter when hands-on care is required or when a visual check would add to the richness of the examination.
Patient interest in trying virtual visits has increased substantially this year, but practices should consider the demographics of their patient base when building out their Synchronous Telehealth program. Research now shows that 60% of all consumers are willing to try virtual visits if the alternative is waiting an additional day or more to see a physician in-person. While you might expect that this adoption is skewed toward younger, tech savvy patients, the opposite is actually turning out to be true. When wait-time to see a physician in person is increased to 2 weeks, 75% of patients over the age of 74 stated that they would be willing to switch to virtual care compared to only 37% of younger patients surveyed. In the current landscape, wait-time tolerance steadily decreases with age, as older patients feel the need to speak with doctors sooner.
With this is mind, as you determine if Synchronous Telehealth Services are right for your practice you should clearly consider the demographics of the patients you serve.
Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote Patient Monitoring is a family of tools that enable patients to aggregate, process, and transmit health data to their healthcare providers using personal health technologies. The most common virtual care tools in this category include wearables, monitors, smart watches, and mobile phone applications. These tools aid in the management of chronic diseases, the tracking of symptoms, and behavioral health monitoring.
When optimally integrated as a component of your Telehealth Services program, Remote Patient Monitoring can deliver massive benefits. For instance, a recent study conducted by the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs showed that proactive symptom monitoring through a telehealth platform led to 57% fewer unplanned hospitalizations and 97% fewer unplanned clinic visits, among prostate cancer patients.
While Remote Patient Monitoring can be an effective supplement to aggregating and reporting data, other Asynchronous Telehealth tools can capture a patient’s prior health record for case management.
The third category of Telehealth Services is Asynchronous Telehealth. The US Department of Veterans Affairsdefines this category as, “the use of technologies to asynchronously acquire and store clinical information (e.g. data, image, sound and video) that is then forwarded to or retrieved by a provider at another location for clinical evaluation”.
As opposed to Synchronous Telehealth, Asynchronous tools don’t require the physician to be present at the time medical information is presented. Advocates of these tools note that asynchronous communication allows doctors to review materials on their own schedule, allowing for improved time efficiency.
Universal Medical Record Uploaders and Remote Second Opinion (RSO) Software are two of the most common Asynchronous Telehealth tools. Universal Medical Record Uploaders enable patients to aggregate and upload medical records of any type or format through a web-based application. Practices can receive and review this information in advance of a patient encounter, whether in-person or virtual. A growing number of practices are beginning to incorporate this tool as part of their new patient intake process.
Remote Second Opinion and Remote Consultation software takes this process one step further. In addition to enabling patients and referring physicians to aggregate and upload records, the software platform organizes this information into a convenient and easily understandable case. This case is then presented to specialist physicians for review and response. Their analysis is shared back to the patient or referring physician who initiated the case, often as part of a real-time consult.
Asynchronous Telehealth technologies have seen broad growth in adoption and patient preferences over recent years. A 2020 study by the Advisory Board,found that many patients now prefer virtual second opinions over the alternative of driving to see a specialist physician. Additionally, adults over the age of 56 showed a strong preference for virtual second opinions rather than driving to see a physician, even in potentially serious or complex medical situations.
As these patient preferences shift, Asynchronous Telehealth technologies are becoming an important tool to consider as part of your practice’s Telehealth approach.
Choosing Your Telehealth Services
In summary, below are some of the most common tools to choose from when establishing your Telehealth program. Remember, not every practice needs every tool, but a clear understanding of your patient interaction points and patient demographics can help you identify which items to select.
Purview offers various Asynchronous Telehealth solutions such as Remote Second Opinion software and services, universal uploaders, and medical data visualization tools. If you need help determining which Telehealth Services might be right for you, please reach out and we would be happy to have a conversation.