By Kat Jercich for Healthcare IT News
A new report from research firm KLAS found that nearly half of the 19 healthcare executives surveyed say that either telehealth functionality or capacity has been their primary problem to solve during the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis.
Other major challenges include remote patient monitoring, interoperability, real-time data analytics, work-from-home resources and patient surveillance.
“While healthcare organizations have found stopgaps in many areas, few have successfully implemented permanent solutions that serve a long-term strategy,” wrote the report authors.
WHY IT MATTERS
As the novel coronavirus pandemic spread across the country this spring, the need became quickly evident for healthcare organizations to spin up telehealth solutions.
Aided by relaxed federal regulations, many health systems modified existing infrastructure or relied on consumer-facing products to fill the gap and address increased demand.
“We have had the ability to perform video visits for six years. Until the middle of March, we had performed just over 1,000 visits total during that time. Since the middle of March, we have performed over 160,000 due to payment waivers and necessity,” wrote one customer quoted in the report.
“We used a few tactics. First, we used tools like Skype, Google Duo and FaceTime as a stopgap. Then we expanded our Epic/Vidyo integration from urgent care visits to all visit types, including surgical and non-surgical specialties and all primary care. This let us replace the stopgap tools,” wrote another respondent.
“We also implemented on-premises telehealth in the ER, ICU and floors; that way, a provider can be in the same building as the patient but not in the same room, decreasing exposure and limiting PPE usage,” they continued.
Nearly half of executives said their organization had enhanced telehealth-related electronic health record functionality the most because of the COVID-19 crisis, with another 50% saying they’d enhanced such tools “somewhat.”
“While a few leverage EHR dashboards to get the real-time data they need, most load the data from their EHRs into other software solutions (e.g., Microsoft Power BI and Tableau) to either house the data or build data visualizations,” wrote the report authors.
And although remote patient monitoring has been another technology concern, only four organizations out of 18 say they have a workable solution.
“Eight organizations say their RPM technology problem remains unsolved,” write the report authors.
THE LARGER TREND
As the report notes, the longevity of telehealth is still uncertain. Although many legislators have signaled their support for some permanent policies that would enable access to virtual care, the details – particularly around reimbursement – remain murky.
This past month, the American Hospital Association wrote an open letter to President Donald Trump and leaders at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services urging them to take specific actions to safeguard telehealth in the longer term.
“We urge the Administration to work with the AHA and Congress to create a future for telehealth that allows not only clinicians, but also hospitals and health systems, to code and bill for virtual services,” wrote AHA president and CEO Richard J. Pollack.
ON THE RECORD
Regarding the executives surveyed in the KLAS report, “Several mentioned using consumer-facing products – e.g., Apple FaceTime, Google Duo, Zoom or Skype – that enable organizations without existing telehealth capabilities to quickly ramp up and handle increased demand,” wrote the authors.
“While many solutions are suitable for this emergency purpose, solutions that serve a strategic, long-term telehealth vision are much scarcer,” they continued.