The COVID-19 pandemic has forced healthcare systems to drastically and quickly rethink how they offer care. The unusually rapid spread of telehealth has been one of the most astonishing continuing trends. The pandemic may offer the impetus required to fulfill telehealth’s full potential. Nonetheless, there are fears that fast deregulation might jeopardize safety and privacy, despite evidence of excellent overall quality, albeit limited. Patients expressed high levels of satisfaction in trials done before the COVID-19 epidemic.
In contrast to regulatory points that have occurred in response to COVID-19, this whitepaper describes some of the most important functions of telehealth and discusses some of the opportunities and challenges that come with successfully harnessing the unexpected expanded role of telehealth from a legal and regulatory perspective.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth is described as the use of telecommunications and digital communication technologies to offer and facilitate health and health-related services such as medical treatment, provider and patient education, health information services and self-care. Live video conferencing, mobile health applications, “store and forward” electronic transmission and remote patient monitoring are all examples of telehealth technology.
Telehealth is not a new concept; it has been promoted by healthcare practitioners, researchers and technology companies for decades. There are several advantages to widespread telehealth adoption, including increased access to healthcare services, risk mitigation, convenience and flexibility and, in many situations, cost savings.
Applications of Telehealth
To access and administer health care services remotely, telehealth refers to the use of digital information and communication technologies, such as computers and mobile devices. These might be technology that you use at home or that your doctor employs to improve or supplement healthcare services. Its prime applications from a general viewpoint include:
- Addressing Physician Scarcities
Patients at smaller, less-resourced hospitals can contact experts at bigger regional clinics through telehealth. Telehealth is being used to treat inmates as well as in rural and underserved urban areas to increase healthcare access.
- For Education & Training Purposes
Many institutions use digital telehealth technology to deliver healthcare education, including Harvard’s Safety, Quality, Informatics and Leadership (SQIL) program, which uses a blended learning approach. These methods combine on-demand material with in-person training to develop a new medical education model that enables healthcare organizations to transform into real learning systems by leveraging data, information technology and a culture of continuous improvement.
- Patient Engagement
Patients are gaining more influence over their health because of telehealth technology. Patients may manage chronic illnesses, decrease weight, boost physical activity levels and get emotional support through educational films, health management apps for mobile devices and online health learning and support networks. Patients are using cellphones and laptops to obtain health education information to supplement their self-care toolkits. Wearables and monitoring devices are also being used to learn about their sleep habits, vital indicators and activity levels.
- Providing Communication Cadence
Increased contact among care professionals using digital and telecommunications networks is a key telehealth advancement. Telehealth technology enable care teams to more readily communicate information and cooperate in the treatment of their patients. PCPs are adopting telehealth platforms to consult with specialists and other clinicians to improve access for their patients in areas with limited provider availability.
Telehealth Implications in a Postpandemic World
The rise of telehealth has caused some severe changes in the healthcare domain, leading to a rethinking of a lot of measures. The main things that would be changed in the post-pandemic world as compared to the present situation would be:
- Change of Payments infrastructure
Payment parity between telemedicine and in-clinic care has been one of the most important advances for telehealth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states previously mandated insurers to cover telehealth but did not enforce payment parity. Low reimbursement for telehealth was seen as a major deterrent. Without remuneration, physicians would struggle to deliver the service, despite evidence from earlier research indicating that clinicians were generally supportive of its usage. Simultaneously, payment rates should match the cost of the service to minimize overpaying if doctors may use telehealth to offer more visits each session. To prevent inadvertently encouraging the usage of telehealth interactions, the notion of pay equity is emerging. Recognizing the need for incentives, some commercial payers and Medicaid programs declared telehealth payment parity throughout the length of the epidemic.
- Changes in Privacy concerns
Patient privacy rules, particularly the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), have also been identified as a possible impediment to broader telehealth use. Given the need for safe and private communication channels, some doctors may find it difficult to find telehealth technology partners willing to sign business associate agreements given the pre-existing security and privacy standards.
- Changes in licensing model
Some states are reducing or removing certain licensure requirements in response to COVID-19. As a result of this development, certain professionals from one state are now able to care for patients in another state. However, because these laws create a more permissive atmosphere, measures to guarantee clinician verification are necessary. Recorded calls, for example, might be used to audit and monitor the quality of treatment (as in the insurance and financial industries),8 albeit measures to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality would need to be created. Another solution may be federal telehealth practitioner licensing, which would ease compliance for physicians who practice telemedicine in many states.
Influence of Telehealth across communities for better health
The confluence of health technology, digital media and mobile devices is known as telehealth, or technology-enabled care (TEC). It makes data and information more accessible to patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals (HCPs), therefore improving the quality and results of both health and social care. Telehealth has the potential to provide cost-effective solutions at a time when demand for health and social care services is expanding due to a growing and aging population, rising prices of sophisticated medical treatments and severely restricted health and social care budgets. Indeed, widespread adoption of telehealth will be critical to the long-term viability of the healthcare system.
Technology has the potential to increase healthcare quality while also making it more accessible to a wider range of individuals. Telehealth has the potential to improve the efficiency, coordination and accessibility of health care.