by Kerry Jessani
As of 2018, more than half of the nation’s community health systems did not have telehealth capabilities in place. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, this caused significant disruption as systems scrambled to implement a virtual infrastructure. As a result, many organizations ended up with suboptimal, expensive technologies that likely will not serve their needs in the long run.
Videoconferencing platforms have been heavily used over the past year, but the regulatory environment for telehealth and HIPAA will likely become more stringent. What’s more, consumers are now more familiar with telehealth and will continue to expect virtual options.
Midsized healthcare systems should use this moment to initiate change and lay the foundation for long-term telehealth capabilities. Here are some top considerations they should keep in mind:
1. Partner with Industry Leaders
For organizations that want to implement new technologies such as telehealth platforms, options include buying, building or partnering. Deloitte recommends “developing a buy, build, partner analysis.”
For midsized systems, partnering can be the best approach. Those that lack the bandwidth to support the development of an in-house platform or the capital to pay a third-party vendor can align with a large healthcare system or solutions provider to foster information and technology sharing. According to Deloitte, “partnerships with technology companies, disrupters and others in the community may all help develop innovative care delivery models or nonhealthcare services and capabilities that an organization could not have done on its own.”
That said, it’s important to monitor partners closely and include specific key performance indicators in any partnership agreements to ensure they’re delivering for stakeholders.
Healthcare system leaders should also do their research up front to ensure a long-term partnership and that the proposed partner can be trusted from a security perspective. Every organization has different standards and procedures, which may lead to vulnerabilities or compliance breaches when it comes to information sharing.
2. Prioritize Security in Telehealth Strategy
If partner security parameters and safeguarding internal IT infrastructure weren’t enough for healthcare leaders to worry about, patients logging in from their own devices can also expose systems to more vulnerabilities.
Thus, electronic and fraud-protection services are critical when it comes to telehealth. In a recent survey from the Association for Financial Professionals and J.P. Morgan, 68 percent of respondents said they believe that fraud increased during the pandemic.
By finding a partner that can develop a full risk management strategy and provide always-on monitoring, midsized healthcare systems can minimize organizational vulnerabilities and operational disruptions, even as telehealth capabilities create more endpoints.
3. Centralize Payments for Virtual Care
The pandemic significantly shifted the reimbursement landscape for telehealth as the federal government and private insurers updated their policies. Though reimbursement capabilities for telehealth have grown, many organizations still have work to do to ensure the overall payment process is as efficient and accurate as possible.
Because midsized healthcare providers have less capital to invest in new technologies compared with larger providers, many continue to rely on disparate and dated processes that require lower capital expenditures but actually cost more over time.
Beyond reducing long-term costs, implementing a centralized system can streamline the online collections process, eliminating manual processes for organizations, along with improving the patient experience. This may be much needed across many health systems, as a recent survey from InstaMed found that 82 percent of consumers want to make all of their healthcare payments in one place, and more than half would consider switching providers for a better payment experience.
Centralized billing and payment solutions are essential to better patient and payer experiences, and ultimately will improve the system’s revenue cycle.
Looking to the Future of Virtual Care
The pandemic changed everything, placing technological innovation at the center of planning for many healthcare organizations. While innovations such as telehealth may be more challenging to implement for midsized players, they are paramount in order to minimize disruption, improve margins and effectively prepare for the future of care. These considerations are an ideal place to start.