As individuals keep house to keep away from publicity to COVID-19, healthcare leaders throughout the nation fear concerning the potential long-term well being implications of sufferers pushing aside their common medical appointments and procedures. Could there be a future well being disaster on account of, for instance, missed routine most cancers screenings or delayed testing for power circumstances corresponding to diabetes and hypertension?
Dr. Scott Hayworth, president and CEO of CareMount Medical, the most important impartial multi-specialty medical group in New York State with greater than 650 physicians, worries that over the following couple of years the nation may see a spike in preventable illness and demise due to missed or delayed screening for pores and skin most cancers, gynecological points and different well being circumstances.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on our practice, as it has on all medical practices across the country,” Hayworth mentioned. “During the pandemic, we have experienced a significant decrease in patient volume; we could not perform elective procedures; and, we substantially increased our telehealth utilization. One of the serious concerns we’ve had during the pandemic revolves around patients with chronic conditions such as hypertension or diabetes obtaining needed care.”
It’s a balancing act for supplier organizations to ship care to power sufferers whereas additionally guaranteeing sufferers and suppliers aren’t uncovered to pointless COVID threat – telehealth has tremendously helped us obtain this stability, he mentioned.
The major targets of boosting telehealth use through the pandemic have been to extend entry to care, protect continuity of care by enabling sufferers to go to with their current suppliers, and preserve a secure surroundings for sufferers and employees. Because CareMount had expertise previous to the pandemic utilizing a telehealth platform, the transition for suppliers has gone comparatively easily after management communicated the significance of embracing telehealth.
“It is vital that administration groups preserve frequent communication with each suppliers and sufferers about what the apply is doing to ship high quality care and promote security.”
Dr. Scott Hayworth, CareMount Medical
“For patients, the transition has been a little more challenging,” Hayworth famous. “While most patients have heard of telehealth, far fewer had experience using it, particularly the elderly. To educate patients, we adopted a three-pronged approach: First, we created a massive patient telehealth campaign using emails and social media to detail the benefits and availability of telehealth. Then we ramped up staffing of our ‘virtual center,’ which is a call center with an 800-number that patients can use for telehealth questions and appointment scheduling.”
CareMount additionally created on-line self-scheduling for telehealth appointments. And it requested all suppliers to adapt to telehealth and supply entry to take care of all of their sufferers.
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MEETING THE CHALLENGE
CareMount has been more than happy with the response to digital visits by each suppliers and sufferers. Patients love the comfort of acquiring care from their very own properties and admire the flexibility to proceed visiting with the suppliers they’ve constructed trusted relationships with over time. Providers have been blissful that telehealth allows them to take care of communication with their sufferers, whereas lowering their threat of publicity to the virus.
“The greatest challenge associated with telehealth for providers is simply that we can’t physically examine our patients, which in some cases limits the information we can gather about patients’ conditions,” Hayworth reported. “In these cases, sufferers have to come back in for workplace visits.
Another problem is the variability within the high quality of sufferers’ web connections, which may make video visits tough.”
At instances, suppliers have needed to conduct audio-only digital visits when sufferers’ connectivity is inadequate to help video.
“In real estate, the mantra is: ‘Location. Location. Location.’ In telehealth, it’s: ‘Reception. Reception. Reception,’” Hayworth quipped.
CareMount’s suppliers and sufferers have had such constructive experiences with telehealth that the group believes use will stay robust even after the pandemic subsides. Today, CareMount is conducting about 1,500 telehealth visits per day, in contrast with previous to the pandemic when it was conducting six telehealth visits per day.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, our daily patient volume dropped to as low as about 35% of our pre-COVID level,” Hayworth mentioned. “Now, it has returned to 80% of what it was earlier in the year.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
Everything begins with communication, Hayworth suggested.
“It is critical that management teams maintain frequent communication with both providers and patients about what the practice is doing to deliver quality care and promote safety,” he mentioned. “This enables patients and providers to feel informed and confident about any changes the practice plans to make to improve care delivery.”
Separately, it’s a big benefit to have a strong infrastructure in place previous to any public well being disaster, he added. This consists of info expertise methods, coaching groups and a safe, HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform. Providers ought to keep away from utilizing platforms that weren’t initially supposed for safe healthcare communications corresponding to Zoom and FaceTime, he warned.
“Additionally, providers should ensure that their telehealth platforms are fully integrated with their electronic health records systems,” Hayworth concluded.
“This integration greatly eases and speeds up patient communication when providers need to schedule follow-up appointments, send referrals or obtain patient-consent forms, for example,” he mentioned. “This functionality is of critical importance at a time when many providers are working from home without the direct support of the in-office staff they have grown accustomed to over the years.”