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Why advances in telehealth are an impactful and growing necessity

Article

Use data to track how patients want to interact and how insurers will cover costs as 'hybrid' becomes the new normal.

“Hybrid” is more than just a buzz word these days – it describes new ways in which we live, work, and even deliver health care. Likewise, delivering quality care can mean a lot of different things to different people. At Holmes Murphy, for example, we’ve developed a model where we approach the best care in the form of three lanes: prioritizing the right provider, the right prevention, and the right pathway.

The high prospects of telehealth: helping patients stay connected and cared for

Leia Spoor
Holmes Murphy

With this, we also know that these lanes are in constant motion and evolution, and there is certainly more than one way to reach the destination of meeting health care needs.

As we are all aware, the onset of COVID-19 presented a host of new challenges, with telemedicine serving as a response to many instances where patients could not meet with a doctor face to face. In fact, the pandemic has overall nearly doubled the percentage of American adults who have tried telemedicine as an alternative to a physician’s office visit.

These methods have been trending as the conventional, and people are now turning to telemedicine as a method of convenience, not just safety. However, there is still much to be determined regarding how hybrid is impacting end results and presenting some essential questions as physicians and insurers alike navigate the “virtual” world of health care, including:

  • How much of health care really can be delivered in a virtual setting?
  • When does it make sense to lean heavily on a hybrid model of providing care remotely versus providing care in-person?
  • What services really have to be cared for in a provider’s office?
  • How often do we really need to see a provider face to face?
  • Can quality health care still be provided from afar?
  • What will the consumer demand be to offer a remote care service?

Of course, there are certain aspects of a doctor’s visit that simply cannot be done over a video call. A nurse cannot take a patient’s temperature, weight, or blood pressure, for example, and if the patient does not have access to these tools to determine that information themselves, it may simply be omitted from the examination.

While telemedicine may not be a “cure all” for any situation where health care is needed, it shouldn’t necessarily be discounted for times where it has helped provide needed access to care, especially in areas of increased demand, such as mental health services. For example, mental health visits among our Holmes Murphy book of business have increased 24% in the past few years, along with a 21% increase in costs.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over half of U.S. counties have no psychiatrists, and even in areas that have mental health providers, there are often not enough to meet the need — especially if patients must travel long distances to reach available providers. Thankfully, telehealth can often be an effective way to provide mental health services when patients and providers are in different physical locations.

I share these examples to highlight a couple of things:

First, I anticipate hybrid health care delivery becoming – or staying – the norm. We’ve witnessed this in our own data from our CLUE (Clinical Learning and Understanding Engine) reports at Holmes Murphy. Per our data, telemedicine visits showed more than a seven times increase in visits in the past few years and a nine times increase in the type of office visits being virtual versus in-person since 2019 within our book of business.

Second, there has been an influx of insurance vendors adding virtual primary and behavioral care to their services. I anticipate continued growth in this area as we see consumers demanding more remote visits.

When it all comes down to it, I recommend a focus on data as the best way to determine how, where, and when patients are accessing health care. Especially now, as these methods quickly evolve, and preferences can vary greatly depending on demographics or the condition being treated, data can often be the key to unlocking the best course of action for quality care. Furthermore, as our capacity to collect this data grows, primary care physicians and insurers may need to be flexible in their offerings and availability of desired services.

Data can also better help patients understand and make informed decisions regarding the treatments offered to them and select options that will support the whole person. As we see consumers demanding more remote visits, primary care physicians may stand to benefit if patient demand grows, and insurers will cover costs with doctors ready to offer consistent, appropriate telehealth services.

Leia Spoor is Holmes Murphy’s clinical director where she serves as an important resource for clients and works closely with the health asset management team. In her role, she also leads data driven disease-specific interventions to improve quality of life for employees and their family members.

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© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health