Tim Vaughan, Chief Product Officer
If the story of 2020 is COVID19, then the key long-lasting impact to healthcare is the emergence of telehealth. Seven months into the pandemic and every week I see at least 10 to 15 stories covering various aspects of telehealth in healthcare. A recent “flavor of the week” has been the news of declining telehealth visits over the past two months. As reported in this STAT article, telemedicine visits dropped from a peak of 69% of all encounters in April to 21% in July. Considering the low single-digit adoption prior to the pandemic, it is difficult to refute that the toothpaste is out of the tube – and telemedicine is here to stay.
Even with this fall off, consumers early experience with telemedicine has been overwhelmingly positive. As reported here, 83% of consumers expect to continue to use telehealth even after the pandemic abates. With the explosion in usage and the fact that so many consumers appreciate the convenience of telehealth, it is no surprise that a recent KLAS report revealed that solving for telehealth is the number one pandemic related technology challenge facing healthcare executives.
And of course, there is the regulatory and payment uncertainty hanging over providers. The reimbursement questions for telehealth over the long-term are critical to the economic health of institutions that have taken a big hit during the pandemic. Knowing what will be reimbursed and at what rates significantly impacts what one is willing to invest. But it’s an unknown. Rules that were relaxed this spring by CMS have not been made permanent, and while the AHA and other organizations press to have these changes codified, it is still an open question.
With the explosion in usage, comes more attention in developing and deploying technology, and the vendor landscape is extremely crowded. While the Teledoc/Livongo acquisition has gotten a lot of ink recently, they are hardly the only game town. In fact, earlier this summer Becker’s posted a list of approximately 260 vendors.
For all the reasons above, the path forward on telemedicine is far from clear. At pCare, we have adopted a platform approach to telehealth. Instead of locking into one solution with potentially limited use cases, we are creating an ecosystem that allows our clients to plug into the solutions and settings that make the most sense for their practices. Tying into the pCare Connect API framework, the pCare Telepresence platform can interface with existing and emerging solutions allowing our clients to scale and adapt in a manner that is both cost effective and non-disruptive. The good folks at KLAS also suggest that a platform approach makes the most sense, especially one that provides the ability to connect both HIT and also consumer devices such as cable tv boxes and home assistants like Alexa. As a patient engagement solutions provider, we could not agree more.
As we enter the autumn, we may be in for a bumpy road. We have been warned that the return to school and the seasonal retreat indoors could lead to a second wave of COVID infections that could be further exacerbated by the flu. The conditions are ripe for another spike in telehealth usage, and the pressure is sure to mount in bringing a solution online. My advice to you, regardless of the vendor you choose, is to keep an eye on the long game and consider the value of a telepresence platform over point solutions.