Clinical Telehealth: Laying the Groundwork for the Next Chapter of COVID-19

Guest Authored by Mike Baird, President Customer Solutions, Amwell

Almost as quickly as the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon the United States, federal and state policymakers responded with a flurry of telehealth-related regulatory changes meant to liberalize restrictions and mobilize more physicians to use telehealth technology to care for patients under quarantine. These changes included waiving in-state licensing requirements for healthcare professionals who held a valid out-of-state medical license, mandating reimbursement parity for many telehealth services, and relaxing HIPAA enforcement for providers using non-compliant platforms in good faith during the public health emergency.

Hospitals and provider groups across the country almost immediately began leveraging telehealth to help care for patients. For health systems with an established telehealth solution, the groundwork was already in place for the required ramp-up. By contrast, organizations with little existing telehealth infrastructure found themselves scrambling for a solution. Many well-intentioned organizations chose to implement low-cost and easy-to-implement platforms, including free — and non-HIPAA-compliant — web-based videoconferencing tools. While these platforms filled a gap during the height of the pandemic, now that many areas have hit their peak, it is time to reexamine long-term telehealth strategies for the future. Here are some things to consider.

Safety and Security
Though HIPAA enforcement has been relaxed during this public health emergency, patient privacy and other safety measures are still critical. While healthcare organizations may have selected a quick-and-easy platform during the pandemic, these platforms are most likely not HIPAA-compliant or HITRUST-certified, which means there is a risk that patient visits are not safe and secure. Coming out of the pandemic, healthcare organizations should weigh patient privacy carefully and consider implementing a secure telehealth platform that ensures its providers are HIPAA-compliant when the public health emergency is over and enforcement resumes.

Supporting Public Health
It’s true that many web-based video platforms enable providers to connect with their existing patients online and perform scheduled visits, but the capabilities often stop there. While this may seem sufficient to some healthcare organizations, having an enterprise-wide telehealth urgent care offering allows health systems to provide access to their broader community during a public health emergency and not just to existing patients. Being able to triage and care for those outside their patient panel is an important consideration for healthcare organizations during today’s crisis and others to come and serves as a valuable tool to attract new patients to the organization.

Connectivity Versus Clinical
While it’s highly likely that these low-cost video tools will establish a foothold in the healthcare industry and continue to provide basic video connectivity, it’s important we make a clear distinction between connectivity and clinical telehealth. These low-cost platforms do provide a reliable video connection between a clinician and patient, yet the technology cannot distinguish the clinician from the patient, nor does it recognize that the connection is a healthcare encounter. On the other hand, clinical telehealth solutions provide that same reliable connectivity but are also purposefully built to support more integrated and enriched workflows, including co-pay collection, insurance support, referral capabilities, EHR integration, provider training, visit summaries automatically sent to patients, a dashboard providing a view into a provider’s virtual waiting room, advanced telehealth device support, and so much more. When looking at a long-term telehealth strategy, healthcare leaders should decide what types of telehealth capabilities are important to their organization and clearly explain that not all telehealth platforms are created equal.

As a nation and as an industry, we continue to face a time of great uncertainty. But we have also learned many lessons from this pandemic. As we look ahead, we need to ensure that we are building our telehealth infrastructure to prepare for the next great challenge, whether it’s a second wave of COVID-19 or simply serving the millions of patients that have now discovered the convenience and effectiveness of telehealth.

Editors Note:
Learn more about Amwell at the upcoming ATA2020 Virtual Conference, June 22-26.
Visit their virtual exhibitor booth, #702, and make an appointment to meet with one of their team or join one of their virtual sessions:

Monday, June 22nd from 3:05-4:05 pm ET
Conversational Agents + Telehealth Virtual Visits: Improving Experiences, Efficiency and Outcomes 

On Demand Session
Telehealth for Medicaid: Better Services for A Vulnerable Population