Is telehealth the new normal?

June 11, 2020 |  Patient Engagement, Transformative Technology, Coronavirus, Virtual Visits

Close up low angle view of a man working from home on a laptop computer sitting at a desk surfing the internet-1

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has gained recognition as an effective and sustainable step for slowing the spread of the virus. Bridging the gaps between patients, physicians, and health systems, telehealth enables communication through virtual channels, protecting the public and the medical staff on the frontlines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending telehealth solutions for non-urgent communication to reduce the pressures facing overcrowded hospitals, and the World Health Organization (WHO), has called telemedicine an essential service in their “Strengthening the health system response to COVID-19” policy. Since telehealth can help flatten the curve of demand on health systems, it’s essential to be prepared for its increased adoption as organizations increasingly leverage the technology.

With its rapid adoption driven by the pandemic, coupled with the convenience it provides patients, telehealth is becoming the “new normal” and is here to stay. As health systems and providers move beyond the current health crisis, how we use telehealth today can guide how we use it in the future.

Triaging patients and virtual care

Having an organized process for triaging patients is a vital part of COVID-19 treatment plans. For clinicians who are working remotely, patients exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms can be examined via virtual visits, and once the risk level is determined, they can come to a testing location or be cared for at home. By utilizing telehealth, physicians are expanding their reach and diagnosing more patients in a shorter amount of time, minimizing the number of patients entering hospitals and other care settings.

Mobile technology also enhances patient care across all types of facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living centers. By enabling caregivers to communicate with the families of higher risk elderly patients, telehealth supports COVID-19 social distancing measures. Mobile solutions allow easy access to patient information, such as labs and test results, enhancing patient safety and providing peace of mind during times of crisis.

E-prescribing and patient engagement

While e-prescribing has become commonplace over the past 15 to 20 years, some physicians have continued to use their paper prescription pads, as well as phone or fax orders to pharmacies, even though the benefits for patient safety have been well measured and long accepted. E-prescribing benefits include access to patient medication histories, safety alerts for potential drug interactions or allergies, and reduced mistakes due to poor legibility, to name just a few.

Just as the pandemic gave a jump start to telehealth, it is also increasing the use of e-prescribing, as doctors can’t simply hand a prescription to their patients if they are not in the same physical space.

State rules and regulations

It is important to be conscious of the legal hurdles that can still affect the ability to fully leverage telehealth solutions. Differing state-by-state rules can come into play, including physician licenses, pharmacists’ scope of practice, and telehealth use across state lines. For example, some states are allowing pharmacists to renew certain prescriptions and administer COVID-19 tests while others are not.

However, the COVID-19 outbreak is shaping up to be a catalyst for lawmakers and regulatory agencies to facilitate widespread telehealth adoption. As healthcare organizations and companies continue initiatives with local and state governments to fight the pandemic, leveraging telehealth technologies to improve access to care will only become more important as we all navigate our new normal.   

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Written by Linda Fischer, Sr. Vice President, Product Strategy, DrFirst

Linda Fischer joined DrFirst after having served 21 years as a VP and CIO for Huntington Hospital where she played a key role in the implementation of an electronic medical records system and successful attestations through CMS’s Meaningful Use Stage 2. Ms. Fischer is a long-time member of HIMSS, CHIME, and GNYHA, and is a founding member of the CHIME Opioid Task Force and DrFirst Opioid Task Force. In 2009, she received the CPEHR Certification from CCHIT as well as a “Friend of Nursing” MAGNET award. Ms. Fischer served on the original Board of Directors in the creation and implementation of the Long Island HIE, known now as HealthEx.