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Guide

Why Telehealth Is Essential

What You Need To Know To Care For Patients Wherever They Are

Telehealth is the new essential of healthcare delivery.

Telehealth is the new essential of healthcare delivery. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, adoption has grown much faster than most providers ever planned for. Now, healthcare providers investing in telehealth are seeing their market share grow.

Telehealth can help drive better outcomes and higher satisfaction rates for patients. With the right implementation, telehealth increases access to care, enhances the connection between patient and provider, facilitates more timely health interventions, and decreases the cost of care.

This page outlines what telehealth is, how to successfully adopt it, and how it can improve access and outcomes for patients. You can use the interactive table of contents to navigate the page.

What is telehealth?

Telehealth is a broad category of solutions that provide care at a distance. This includes all remote and/or technology-driven healthcare, and it can refer to remote doctor visits, chronic condition management, prescription refills, and more. Although “telehealth” and “virtual healthcare” are often used interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing.

Virtual healthcare is actually an important component of telehealth — a virtual visit between a patient and a healthcare provider via communications technology. Virtual healthcare is currently most commonly leveraged for consultations, check-ins, and remote monitoring of procedures. It’s a form of telehealth that connects providers and patients.

Making primary care more acessible

Primary care has the highest positive impact when it is easy to access.

Not all aspects of care require a face-to-face interaction — sometimes, telehealth is a better option than an in-person visit. It all depends on the needs of each individual patient. That’s why a strategic combination of virtual and in-person care drives the best outcomes.

Considering all that is going on right now, it is really nice to know my doctor is still available even though I can’t visit the office.Vera Member

Telehealth improves access to care by removing time and travel barriers to care that doesn’t require a face-to-face appointment. When patients are able to make and keep appointments more easily, they’re more likely to seek out the care they need.

It was fast, easy, and took up much less time than my previous in-person visit. My in-person visit was great too, but this was more efficient and less anxiety-inducing.Vera Member

Healthcare providers must continue to develop telehealth solutions that are more accessible, equitable, and secure. The best solution will be built on a foundation of effective, value-based primary care.

The financial benefits of investing in telehealth

An investment in telehealth leads to a range of benefits for healthcare organizations — and ultimately, a reduction in the total cost of care.

A survey by the Foley & Lardner law firm showed that only 46% of healthcare organizations were tracking their telehealth return on investment (ROI). But those who were tracking ROI saw the following annual savings:

Over 50% saw savings of 10% or more
29% saw savings of 20% or more

For providers operating in a fee-for-service model, the most significant benefits will likely come with changes to the intensity of care patients need, increases in new patients, and higher retention of current patients.

Providers operating in a value-based model will see some additional benefits. At-risk payment models like capitation will allow them to integrate a new service line like telehealth without suffering an initial revenue loss.

Telehealth makes high-quality visits with a health provider more accessible for patients that might find it challenging to visit a physical care center. It also creates more opportunities for care coordination and patient outreach, which lead to better outcomes and thus more revenue from value-based contracts.

Adapting to telehealth technology

The COVID-19 pandemic has put the spotlight on telehealth services. In 6 months, adoption has grown to a level that might otherwise have taken 10 years to reach. Although telehealth has grown by leaps and bounds, there are still major challenges to overcome.

Ensuring equitable access

To successfully adopt telehealth, healthcare providers must accommodate different levels of tech aptitude. Some patients may struggle to use technology like a gated portal, so a streamlined user experience is essential.

Internet access shouldn’t be taken for granted either. According to Pew Research Center, 10% of US adults aren’t connected to the internet at all, and older generations are the most likely to face challenges in this category.

Age is just one of the factors that links to internet adoption. A variety of social determinants—like educational attainment, household income, and community type—are also indicators of whether a person will have the ability to take part in a video conference with their health provider.

One of the benefits of expanding telehealth options is reducing the potential burden of time and money that patients might otherwise be spending on an in-person trip to the doctor. But the patients who are most burdened by these factors may also have reduced access to the internet.

The opportunity for telehealth services shouldn’t be reserved for younger generations or those who own smart devices. That’s why it’s important to remember that telehealth isn’t synonymous with videoconferencing. To overcome the digital divide, telehealth services must also be equally available by phone.

Equitable telehealth services must be able to reach people who don’t have an internet connection.

Leveraging AI for data and outreach

Cost of care and population health are both concerns that affect healthcare organizations as well as patients. Artificial intelligence (AI) can assist in bringing down the cost of care by using chatbots to create efficiencies in triage.

Although chatbots aren’t an equal substitute for in-person care or a remote visit with a primary care provider, AI can also help to address medical staff capacity, make sense of population health data, and identify patterns during a public health crisis like COVID-19.

Privacy concerns

A recent report from SecurityScorecard and DarkOwl found that increased adoption of telehealth comes with an increased risk to patient data, although these risks can be mitigated through thoughtful implementation.

Rapidly rolled out telehealth applications have become an attractive target for cybercriminals who exploit weaknesses in application security, endpoint device security, and network security.

A data breach could not only cause direct harm to patients but also undermine their confidence in telehealth or their healthcare provider.

To ensure confidence and maintain privacy, providers and patients need the following:

  • Ironclad cybersecurity with vetted and enforced security protocols
  • A HIPAA-compliant platform protected by appropriate legal agreements
  • Access to a private physical space where no one will be overheard

Ensuring high-quality care delivery and improved outcomes

Quality primary care is the foundation of patient outcomes, whether it is delivered remotely or in-person. Telehealth services need to provide the same high standard of care that a patient deserves from an in-person visit.

The Vera advanced primary care (APC) model serves as a standard that quality telehealth should rise to meet. Vera APC is whole person care that creates better outcomes, member experience, and savings through:

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Increased access to lower-cost, convenient care
A patient-provider relationship based on trust
A population health model supported by rich informatics
Managed care providing value-based referrals and care coordination
Embedded health coaching that supports true behavior change

To evaluate whether your telehealth solutions are enhancing your primary care, measure it against the best-practice Vera APC model:

  1. Robust informatics

    An informatics platform segments the population by risk, allowing providers to give care to the highest risk, most impactable segments first. Using rich claims data and informatics provides actionable insight, increases utilization, and closes care gaps.

    Telehealth supports customized outreach that encourages people to seek care, boosts adherence, and extends engagement to those who are less likely to visit a care center.

  2. Active care coordination

    Providers support members by steering their care to and from value-based specialists to help close care gaps, reduce hassle, and build trust between members and providers.

    Telehealth makes it easier for providers to follow up with members, which is essential to effective care coordination.

  3. Professional health coaches

    Clinically integrated health coaches use the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) to help patients change their behavior to improve their lifestyle and achieve life goals. TTM outlines five stages that a person must move through before effective, lasting change occurs.

    Telehealth allows members to connect with health coaches wherever they are, opening up more opportunities for self-change, especially with patients who feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics remotely.

  4. Empathetic listening

    Physicians, nurses, and health coaches can use empathetic listening to help their patients achieve positive health outcomes. Members become more invested in their health when they feel heard.

    Telehealth creates opportunities for empathetic listening by connecting patients with care teams and health coaches.

  5. Scope of care

    Primary care providers should be able to care for each patient’s whole health — biological, psychological, and social. Care teams should include a health coach who helps empower patients to make meaningful changes.

    Telehealth helps by allowing patients to easily connect with care teams and health coaches in the way that works best with their personal circumstances.

 

So much of what we do in primary care is education and coaching … if we can remove access barriers like time, transportation, worries about COVID-19, and social anxiety or healthcare anxiety, then we can start to have those conversations and make a difference in people’s health, while continuing the relationship. Heidi Baines, Lead Provider & Physician

Telehealth means better
care for patients

Although adoption poses challenges, the benefits of telehealth are clear. When integrated with an advanced primary care model, high-quality telehealth increases utilization of primary care without sacrificing personal interaction. It enhances care coordination and improves patient outcomes — all while decreasing the cost of care.

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