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Is Telehealth Right for Your Practice? 5 Questions to Ask

Telehealth is on the rise especially with younger generations, so it’s crucial to stay relevant. But many providers have tons of questions about its purpose and benefits

Annual telehealth visits have risen from 350,000 in 2013 to 7 million in 2018, and they’re expected to become 15% of all clinical visits by 2024. But there’s still much confusion about telehealth and its overall purpose. Primarily, telehealth is a way for providers to expand their patient network and for underserved populations to access high-quality care, they otherwise wouldn’t have. But implementing a telehealth system doesn’t make sense for every healthcare facility or clinician.

At the American Association of Nurse Practitioners’ annual conference, Kelli Garber, MSN, APRN, PPCPN-BC, and lead advanced practice provider and clinical integration specialist at The Medical University of South Carolina’s Center for Telehealth, broke down the primary considerations if you’re interested in dabbling in telehealth.

1. Why Do You Want to Use Telehealth?

Garber stresses that leading with the “why” is crucial because telehealth can waste resources. She adds the goal should never be to replace in-person interactions; telehealth exists to supplement and increase healthcare access to those who might not otherwise have it. If your patients are largely millennials and gen-Xers, telehealth may make a lot of sense for your practice. Some 40% of millennials and 27% of gen-Xers report that having a telemedicine option is “extremely or very important” to them compared to 19% of baby boomers.

To answer the “why” question, Garber says you also need to understand the different applications of telehealth. Some common uses of telehealth are education, research, practice, and consultation. Many providers also combine more than one, especially education and research.

2. What Telehealth Type Would Be the Most Effective for Your Situation?

Telehealth is a more general term for remote healthcare that does not always involve clinical services. For example, Telehealth includes telemedicine, which is the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications to improve a patient’s clinical health status.

Under the umbrella of telemedicine, there are also synchronous interactions, which involve real-time audio and video with or without the use of peripheral devices, and asynchronous, which includes recording, stored images, and messaging, such as e-visits and e-consults, online interviews and recorded video visits. Some providers also use mHealth, which provides home monitoring, wearable devices, and health apps.

3. Where Will the Patients and Provider Be Located?

Knowing this ahead of time is essential because practitioners need to follow the laws of the state of the spoke/originating site (where the patient is located) and the hub/distant site (where the provider is located).

4. Will it Be Cost-Effective?

You may have heard that telehealth saves practices money because telehealth companies insist that digital visits cost less than in-person ones. But a 2017 report from Kaiser Health News found that’s not always the case. Why? To start, you might need to pay extra for faster internet service. Also, know that you could spend more time dealing with insurance companies. For example, some insurers don’t cover telemedicine, some only cover it in pricier plans, some only cover it for specific codes, and some only cover it for certain providers. That said, current regulations require all 50 states and Washington, DC, to reimburse for some type of live video.

5. Will You Maintain Your Quality of Care? 

Above all else, Garber says providers using telehealth must understand that digital services don’t absolve you from meeting evidence-based practice requirements. Garber also recommends looking into telehealth guidelines for your specialty, adding that most professional organizations for specialties have telehealth guides. The American Telemedicine Association is also an excellent resource.

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