The COVID-19 removed the long-term obstacles barring extended use of telehealth so that provider organizations could quickly deploy telehealth applications to address healthcare during a massive public health emergency. Now that we’re rapidly approaching a steady transition back into normalcy, we wanted to understand telehealth's future beyond the pandemic.
BlueJeans is proud to present “The Future of Telehealth: Balancing Security and Ease of Use” from HIMSS Market Intelligence. HIMSS conducted this research during November 2020 on behalf of BlueJeans to help understand how clinicians and hospital leaders are approaching telehealth after the pandemic, and specifically focused on:
• Expectations for the post-pandemic future of telehealth
• Platform use and needs among clinicians and telehealth decision-makers
• Challenges and areas of opportunity for post-pandemic telehealth
According to Lea Sims, Marketing Lead for Healthcare, Insurance and Life Sciences, Verizon, said COVID-19 “opened the door” so provider organizations could quickly pivot to new solutions that supported virtual patient visits and remote patient monitoring applications. To continue to provide care in the middle of the pandemic, Health Care Organizations (HCOs) expedited their telehealth initiatives that had traditionally been difficult to adopt extensively. Initially, HCOs were focused on overcoming technical challenges as they deployed new or expanded existing telehealth applications. According to the results of the survey conducted by HIMSS, the next phase will involve different considerations. 85% of respondents reported that the ease of technology use, for both patients and providers, was a critical factor in driving good outcomes from telehealth. To enable continued use of telehealth, providers will need to consider the ease of usability among patients first and foremost.
According to Tim Bickel, Director of Telehealth at University of Louisville, ““Most patients, at this point, have learned to use video conferencing to communicate with their families,” he said. “But to continue telehealth use, any platform you invest in has to be extremely easy to use.”
However, Post-Pandemic Expectations survey agreed that current telehealth technology is too difficult for patients to use – with almost 60% of those respondents falling in executive leadership or administrative roles.
Rob Havasy, Senior Director for Health Information Systems, HIMSS, as well as a member of the PCHAlliance, said much of the lack of usability seen is due to providers being fixated on privacy and security concerns – and avoiding any potential HIPAA violations. Patients, however – particularly younger, more tech-savvy patients – tend to value convenience when it comes to telehealth. “With providers being more fixated on privacy and security than patients are, they are looking toward platforms that may be more challenging for patients to use. Providers, I think, are overestimating the degree to which patients value privacy over ease of use. But as telehealth use has grown over the past year, we see, from the patient point of view, convenience will always win.”
With vaccines now a reality and fast providing the world a path back to normalcy, HCO leaders are considering where telehealth use will make the most sense post-pandemic. Once providers are able to fully reopen for in-person appointments, they will have to provide the highest quality of care and better manage the organization’s bottom lines. Havasy said providers will have to carefully balance the return on investment as they assess which types of services will be best supported by in-person or virtual care. While the vast majority of respondents in the Future of Telehealth: Post-Pandemic Expectations survey expect to see their telehealth video conferencing budget grow in the next two to three years (81%) to support telehealth operations by an average of 36%, reimbursement unknowns remain top of mind. In fact, 59% of the study respondents stated this was the top pain point regarding telehealth post-pandemic. That makes it essential to consider solutions that make reimbursement management simpler and efficient.
The survey also probed into the main functionalities that HCOs will prioritize when they consider their next telehealth solution. 80% considered Ease of Use as the top functionality, followed by interoperability (61%) where the solution can be accessed from any device. This was closely followed by video conferencing integration with EHR workflows and interfaces (57%).
Even with the potential questions that are yet to be determined, telehealth has moved to a place where it is now expected to be a part of every care delivery model. “Even outside the pandemic, there are dozens of different cases where it just makes more sense for providers to see patients remotely, especially when we are talking about that harder-to access subspeciality or micro-specialty care,” Tim Bickel says. “Telehealth will just be one more way to deliver healthcare. It’s not the end-all, be-all for every clinical encounter. But it is an excellent tool when used correctly.”
Undoubtedly, telehealth will be an integral part of the future of healthcare. “There is a tremendous opportunity for telehealth to move from a temporary ‘gap fill’ offering during the pandemic to a truly virtual first-care model, where telehealth becomes the doorway into the care encounter pathway for clinical practice – meaning, all visits that can be done via telehealth should be,” said Lea Sims. “But, to be successful, you need solutions that can deliver streamlined simplicity to the patient and the clinician while solving for interoperability and security needs. It’s a challenge – but it’s one we can meet.”
Read the full whitepaper and take a look at the supporting infographic to find the full findings of the study. For a deeper dive and to learn insights from experts at HIMSS, Verizon and BlueJeans, register for the webinar “Telehealth in a Post-Pandemic World: Four Key Traits” streaming April 7th, 2021, hosted by HIMSS.