As the global COVID-19 Pandemic rages on, confusion continues about such terms as Remote Patient Care, Telemedicine, and Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote Patient Care
The goal of Remote Care is to provide as much health care service as possible without the patient visiting the office. For some, they think of this as nothing more than a traditional video chat session between the provider and the patient, conducted over an existing video chat service. Even just a few years ago Health Affairs made little distinction between Remote Care Management and telehealth. However, Remote Care has grown well beyond the simple video chat. It now encompasses Remote Patient Monitoring as well as automated surveys, interactive messaging and custom care plans to help providers spot trends that, if left un-noticed, could result in hospitalization or death.
Advances in Telehealth
Telehealth has moved well beyond the simple video chat session conducted over a commercially available service. Dr. John Waits of Cahaba Medical Care in Bibb County, Alabama states, ““The easiest thing to do would be to FaceTime everybody, but it’s not as secure.” There is also an issue with exposing a doctor’s cell number to patients. “If I’m off call for a week, I don’t want them leaving voicemails on my cell phone if they have chest pain.”
Comprehensive services address the complex system of workflows, privacy regulations and billing processes that need to be effectively managed to make telehealth work. Clinicians must have a way to properly track and notify patients of telehealth visits, whether they are “instant” or “on-demand” appointments, or if they are scheduled in the future. Mechanisms need to be developed to track patients as they arrive at their telehealth appointments and that allow them to see multiple clinicians at one time or move between clinicians for various consultations. They also need the familiar “post-exam” consultation where they receive follow-up instructions and book their next appointment.
All this activity must be properly recorded and coded so that the provider can submit to CMS or the private insurer for proper reimbursement.
This is one of the newer applications of technology that helps patients manage their health between visits to their provider. Pre-scheduled surveys (either by voice or by text) ask questions of the patient to monitor their condition. During the recent COVID-19 pandemic, systems would call patients every day and ask them questions such as, “Are you coughing more than usual today?” or “Do you feel out of breath, even when sitting still?” Monitoring the answers and alerting clinicians when answers fall outside of the expected range is key to enabling providers to be pro-active in their treatment.
Remote Patient Monitoring
As networking technology has improved, it is now possible to place devices in a patient’s home that report measurements directly back to a cloud-based system. This can be done even if the patient has no in-home network or any technical knowledge. With multiple, machine-reported readings per day, providers can even manage medication and other complex issues without the patient having to come to the office.
Billing and Reimbursement
The recent economic downturn has hit businesses in every sector. Healthcare providers have not been immune to this. They face both the problem of reduced office visits and the complexity of getting reimbursed for out-of-office services.
Dr. Christopher Adams, a rheumatologist at East Alabama Medical Center put it rather succinctly, “The telehealth reimbursement is tragic.” Rural areas in Alabama are particularly hard hit, since prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, there was no system in place in Alabama to pay for telemedicine visits for primary care.
As Remote Care reimbursement is rolled out, many primary care physicians didn’t get much time to roll out a telemedicine service. “Our whole healthcare system for 70, 80 years is designed around coming into the doctor’s office, and now in a weekend we were trying to implement this thing we’d normally spend 18 months rolling out,” said Waits.
While many practices have recently attempted to roll-out Remote Care programs on their own, the reality is that it is just not that simple.
The infrastructure needed for a workable, widely adopted telemedicine system “simply did not exist” in Alabama prior to coronavirus, said Dr. Adams.
“From my personal experience, we tried two different ways of doing it before our medical center IT department said to heck with it, we’re going to contract this out to a third party.”
Remote Care Partners
Remote Care Partners has a comprehensive set of services that answer the needs of providers who are still struggling with the complexity of rolling out Remote Care. Visit www.remotecarepartners.com to get more information or request a demonstration.
With the COVID-19 pandemic having already set the stage for a massive increase in telehealth consults, the research firm sees an even bigger future – as demand for one-stop virtual visits and remote patient monitoring grows as much as seven-fold.
Telehealth is more in demand than ever during the coronavirus crisis, and a new report from Frost & Sullivan suggests its uptake will increase by 64.3% nationwide this year, given the disruptions of COVID-19.
But in the years ahead, virtual care and remote monitoring should truly take off, according to the report.
WHY IT MATTERS
According to the study, Telehealth: A Technology-Based Weapon in the War Against the Coronavirus, 2020, researchers predict that the pandemic will continue to reshape care delivery – and open big opportunities for virtual care in the near term future.
Frost & Sullivan forecasts a seven-fold growth in telehealth by 2025 – a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.
This poses huge opportunities and challenges for providers and vendors alike. Among researchers’ predictions: more user-friendly sensors and remote diagnostic equipment, enabling better patient outcomes. They also see more practical applications of AI and robotics, with advancements such as interactive virtual assistants enabling more opportunities for care.
Frost & Sullivan also sees more mature deployments analytics, both now, during the COVID-19 emergency, and in the future; better adherence to cybersecurity and privacy regulations and measurable data that shows telehealth’s ROI – influencing even more lasting regulatory changes, beyond than the expansions, enforcement discretion and allowances during the pandemic.
THE LARGER TREND
The research report’s forecasts of enormous growth are borne out by some real-world stats, such as the ones seen recently at NYU Langone. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Informatics Association, virtual urgent care visits at the health system grew by 683%, and non-urgent virtual-care visits grew by a staggering 4,345% percent between March 2 and April 14.
“We will never go back to 50 [telehealth] visits a day,” said NYU Langone CMIO Dr. Paul Testa. “That genie’s out of the bottle.”
At MedStar Health, meanwhile, the volume went from about two daily telehealth visits to 4,150 in just two months, with the health system rapidly rolling out tech that has enabled 100,000 virtual visits between March 13 and May 1.
Consumer opinions are changing too: Almost three-quarters of patients polled for one recent survey said they’d consider using telehealth to be remotely screened for COVID-19, and two-thirds said the pandemic has increased their willingness to try virtual care.
ON THE RECORD
“The critical need for social distancing among physicians and patients will drive unprecedented demand for telehealth, which involves the use of communication systems and networks to enable either a synchronous or asynchronous session between the patient and provider,” said Victor Camlek, Healthcare Principal Analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
He noted, however, that more education is needed: “Not all stakeholders need to remember that many people use the terms ‘telehealth’ or ‘telemedicine’ without understanding the ecosystem that is involved.”
Going forward, he predicted, “virtual visits and remote patient monitoring will propel the overall market of telehealth, followed by mHealth and personal emergency response systems. Further, patients will benefit if data from RPM is fully available to virtual visit providers. This trend will demonstrate the benefit of integrated services. The trauma resulting from the COVID-19 crisis will lead to a clear growth opportunity for one-stop virtual visit and RPM solutions.”
This article originally appeared at https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/telehealth-set-tsunami-growth-says-frost-sullivan