Why It’s Time to Make Telehealth Education a Priority
Telehealth isn’t new; we’ve spent years trying to bring virtual care into people’s homes and it never really caught on – until Covid-19. The coronavirus crisis changed everything. Provider organizations across the country pivoted and began offering telehealth services practically overnight to ensure access to care amid lockdowns and quarantines. Never before in the history of modern healthcare has such a seismic shift occurred so quickly.
The crisis opened our eyes to the possibilities of telehealth, now as the dust settles the challenge is how to unwind that and figure out the best path forward.
Telehealth is at an important crossroad: questions and challenges remain to be solved, but what’s clear is that it’s time to curb the ‘wild west’ mentality and determine how we can provide safe access to quality telehealth care in a consistent way for patients across the country.
Education is a key puzzle piece.
A Systems Approach
Every clinician wants to ensure they are delivering the best care and meeting the quality standards in care. Training and education in telehealth can ensure providers deliver care through this modality the same way they would have in person.
As you think about training and what is needed to be skilled in providing quality care via telehealth, it’s equally important that we train providers in the health system elements of integrating telehealth into practice. One modality doesn’t replace the other; instead, they complement each other. The notion of what should be delivered virtually and what should be delivered in person – and how they fit together can’t be a mystery. Very few have figured out how to seamlessly integrate the two together in a sustainable way. For telehealth to succeed long term, we need to ensure people not only have the clinical skills, but also the health system skills, to fit the two together. To do that effectively requires knowing things such as:
- When virtual care makes the most sense, and when should a patient be seen in person
- How to standardize technology and help patients with technology when needed
- How to ensure smooth transitions, handoffs, and escalations
Coming out of the pandemic we’ve seen and heard enough to understand everyone needs to have a solid foundation or base of skills in providing care via telehealth within their specialty. This will help ensure all the various kinds of telemedicine visits out there are consistent, and that there are standards. This matters a lot, not only for providing equal access to quality care, but also when you consider billing and reimbursements. Payers need to understand that there is a practice standard in telemedicine, just as there is for traditional office visits.
This is an area where certification may come into play. For organizations, having a seal of approval that says: this hospital or healthcare system has a consistent practice that delivers quality outcomes for telehealth patients because they have gone through training and the rigor of organizing policies and guidelines to ensure that – speaks volumes. We’ve done the same things for brick-and-mortar practices. We see the need to transfer that into the virtual care setting.
Quality is Paramount
What’s most important as we think about education and the future of telehealth is quality. How do we define quality telehealth? And how does it apply to a particular specialty? Without standards, there simply is no way to assure that all patients across the country will receive the same level of quality care as deserved. The pandemic highlighted the need for equity in healthcare, and telehealth is no exception.
What’s more, just like any new advance in medicine, telehealth requires training, guidance and standardization to ensure that virtual care quality is safe and consistent. Healthcare organizations would never introduce a new piece of technology and expect providers to use it without training; here again, virtual care is no different.
In 2021, telehealth is that new piece of “equipment,” and while statistics are still being compiled, one thing is certain: its use during the COVID-19 pandemic skyrocketed. Care providers and patients realized telehealth’s amazing potential for convenient and expedient care, and now that millions have experienced its benefits, there is no doubt that telehealth is here to stay.
Navigating the Road Ahead
Telehealth use can’t slide back with the return of in-office visits. Instead, now is the time to develop new skills and workflows that enable us to weave telemedicine into the fabric of health care delivery long term. This will require healthcare organizations and providers to expand their knowledge to better understand the potential applications, benefits, and limits of telehealth.
When it comes to telehealth education: the time is now.
About the Author:
Mandy Bell is Innovation Officer at Avel eCare in Sioux Falls, SD. She oversees Avel’s specialty consult, direct to consumer, and school health telehealth programs. She also facilitates the innovation process within Avel that has launched 9 of Avel’s 11 telemedicine verticals and garnered over $100 million in grant support. She is a founding member of the American Board of Telehealth and oversees daily operations. She serves as the Principal Investigator on several telehealth research grants. Mandy has a Masters in Healthcare Administration from the University of Minnesota and has been working in telehealth for 13 years.