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What is the Future of Telehealth?

Thought Leadership

Recent legislation has been proposed by the House to permanently extend emergency telehealth waivers so that telehealth can remain accessible after the pandemic. It is a profound shift from last year when telehealth was a fledgling concept that most people had hardly heard of or used. In fact, it was something I only got to know this past January, when I had a nagging sinus infection on a Saturday night and both my primary care provider and local urgent cares were closed.

Now, a survey reports that 42% of Americans have utilized telehealth since the pandemic first began[i]. With reputable hospitals and clinics rolling out telehealth programs, most Americans are loving the convenience, low costs, and not having to worry about being exposed to illnesses. The only question I have is, will it last once Covid-19 is over?

Telehealth has many benefits for patients, practices and insurance companies alike:

  • Increases access to care – Particularly in cases of rural communities or older patients with limited mobility. Suburban Americans live an average of 12 minutes from their nearest hospital, whereas rural Americans live an average of 17 minutes away.[ii]
  • Reduces risk – Aside from the current pandemic, the most commonly cited telehealth visit reason is a sinus infection (20%), followed by cold/flu (12%). Both conditions are contagious and could be spread to others during an in-person office visit.
  • Expedites timely care – Not only does telehealth cut down on visit time (traditional visit time is 121 minutes on average including travel, telemedicine averages 16 minutes[iii]), but patients are able to get appointments faster than they would with an in-person visit.
  • Cuts patient costs – On average, a telehealth visit costs about $79 compared to $146 for an in-office visit.[iv]
  • Cuts practice costs – Telehealth dramatically reduces overhead and the instances of no-shows, as well as unnecessary readmissions.

What does the new legislation cover?

The bipartisan bill is aimed at making telehealth flexibilities created during the pandemic permanent, including: ensuring continued coverage for telehealth in federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and rural health centers (RHCs), removing geographic restrictions and allowing the patient’s home as an originating site, and making permanent the HHS’s temporary waiver authority for future emergencies.

The limitations

The recent legislation proposed by the House Telehealth Caucus is an important first step in addressing barriers to telehealth.  However, an infrastructure issue needs to be addressed in order for telehealth to truly be successful in the long term, and that is the disconnect between the EHR and telehealth. Specifically, the duplicate or disconnected records that result when new telehealth account IDs do not match the MRN.

The lack of “match up” results in clinicians not having a full view of a patient’s history, hospitals not being able see information from a patient’s telehealth visits, and HIM teams becoming overloaded while attempting to clean up these inconsistencies.

Verato wants to do our part to help healthcare organizations navigate the current Covid-19 pandemic and solve record management issues. To learn more, check out our Telehealth Identity Bridge.