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Telehealth Usage Up Across America as COVID-19 Restrictions Intensify

by Margaret Brown

With millions of Americans currently under “stay-at-home” orders to protect themselves and others during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage is up across the country. Telehealth is now more accessible and easier to access across several platforms, including Facetime, Google Hangouts, iMessage, and custom platforms. It also takes the load off emergency rooms and urgent care facilities, which is critical now. In this roundup we learn about these things, how new emergency guidelines allow for physicians to practice across state lines and prescribe controlled substances without a prior in-person exam, and what kinds of technology is needed to support high-quality telehealth.

Health System Uses Telehealth to Steer Patients Away From ER, Urgent Care

At WakeMed Health and Hospitals, 61% of patients who used virtual urgent care would have gone to an urgent care facility; 14% would have gone to an emergency room. The existing landscape of telehealth vendors means there certainly is no shortage of plug-and-play options, but WakeMed Health’s goal in implementing virtual care was to not only provide more access and options for high-quality care, but also to engage with more residents in the community and across the state, and make the healthcare experience easier for everyone involved. WakeMed recently unveiled its All Access App, a wayfinding and patient-engagement app. It wanted to offer a singular platform for patients – one that put all the tools, features and advanced capabilities, including virtual care, in one place. For the telemedicine piece, they needed a platform that was compatible with the app and could be integrated within the app. That was the challenge. WakeMed Health turned to RelyMD, a telemedicine technology vendor, for the telehealth piece. With the WakeMed All-Access App, patients have access to their WakeMed MyChart patient portal and medical records, as well as a Find a Doctor database.

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The Future of Telehealth Relies on Next-Gen Technology, Platforms to Support Data Collection

Despite years of anticipation for ubiquitous access to telehealth services, adoption has remained slow. Regulatory issues have been a significant barrier, but those are finally falling away. That is a good thing, since a Lenovo study found that almost half of their survey audience believe that technology will be “critical” to transforming healthcare. At this juncture, it is imperative for technology companies to understand the demand and desire for direct-to-consumer (DTC) telehealth. They also must prepare to implement a technology platform that can incorporate next-gen technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, genomics, and sensors, and effectively support the massive amounts of data required for those applications.

The ability to deliver convenience, speed, and a usually low-cost option for online treatment for minor medical conditions also spurs demand, according to Lisa Hines, MBA, Strategic Advisor for Healthcare at NetApp.  One example is the use of a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to improve physician productivity by reducing the amount of time a physician must take to log into and out of different types of computers and applications.

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COVID-19 Response Signals an Immediate Shift in The Future of Care Delivery — If It Lasts

COVID-19 will prove to be an igniting moment for a patient-centric care model and that change is already kindling on a global scale. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in fact, the U.S. government and private sector are quickly and aggressively rewriting the rules of health care in several ways. We’ve seen sweeping changes: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new rules that expand telehealth and waive HIPAA, followed by CMS enabling all medical professionals to practice across state lines whether virtually or physically. The DEA announced that because of COVID-19, physicians can temporarily prescribe controlled substances via telemedicine without a prior in-person exam. Taken together these offer a picture of the increasingly virtualized world we all know is coming but has thus far felt like a distant point on the horizon.  One can now envision a world in which a patient in Topeka, Kansas, can consult, via Facetime, Google Hangouts, iMessage or Skype, with just about any type of doctor elsewhere in the country — who, in turn, can now finally be paid for delivering care virtually. Atrium Health, based in Charlotte, announced that virtual health visits in the last week have gone up 500 percent.

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