Planning for the Future of Telehealth

Planning for the Future of Telehealth

Tips for Shifting to a More Aggressive Virtual Care Growth Strategy

By Brian C. Young and Lee Ann Lambdin

Hospitals and caregivers across our country are pivoting in response to COVID-19. While the impact on individual hospitals varies greatly, a common theme for all providers is the need to keep patients at home, whenever possible, for the safety of both patients and providers. This has opened the door for telehealth growth and we’re witnessing a rapid shift from a previously deliberate adoption path to a record pace of uptake. 

“Telehealth is bridging the gap between people, physicians, and health systems, enabling everyone, especially symptomatic patients, to stay at home and communicate with physicians through virtual channels, helping to reduce the spread of the virus to mass populations and the medical staff on the frontlines,” said Dedi Gilad, CEO, and co-founder of Tyto Care, a telehealth technology company, in this Healthcare IT News article. 

So what is the future for telehealth, after the current “stay home” mandates are lifted? How can hospital planners prepare for a change in strategy in light of our collective embrace of virtual technologies?

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Growth and Use Cases of Telehealth

Telehealth has seen steady growth over the last ten years, especially in certain care settings. Many successful deployments of telehealth have been in urgent care or primary care settings. Hospitals have seen growth in specialty care, particularly in instances where access to a needed specialist was not available within the walls of their facility. In an effort to keep the patient local, telehealth has provided an opportunity for virtual consultations with specialists to determine the right course of treatment. Telepsych and behavioral health providers have seen success in shifting in-person group therapy sessions and/or cognitive therapy to virtual settings. This has been particularly helpful to returning veterans dealing with PTSD.

But even with these successes, widespread adoption of virtual care strategies have been measured. “Telehealth’s advantages are manifest, but technology costs and regulatory barriers have slowed its wider adoption across the U.S. Nonetheless, the current pandemic has swiftly remade telemedicine into a must-have tool that is barely keeping up with demand,” says Melinda L. Estes, M.D., in this AHA article. COVID-19 has swiftly changed things for telehealth and now strategic planners will want to consider how to more aggressively incorporate virtual care into their growth strategy

Considering Telemedicine in Growth Planning

With our current rapid adoption of telemedicine, it’s hard to see how we’ll shift back to the way things were before COVID-19. Rather, there’s a good chance we’ll continue to use virtual technologies as much, if not more so, in life post-COVID-19. In light of this, below are a couple of ways growth planners can embrace telehealth and be better prepared for the future.

Managing Readmissions

As we continue to shift from volume to value-based care, there’s an ongoing push to reduce readmissions. Telemedicine can be a valuable tool in this effort. Virtual check-ins provide an easier way to follow up with patients after a major health incident. These visits can be done more frequently, enabling providers to ensure patients stay compliant with their discharge program. With the hope of avoiding value-based penalties and high readmission rates, strategic planners can help to implement a system where telehealth becomes the norm for future provider follow-up visits.  

Reevaluating Expansion Opportunities

Does it still make sense to open another outpatient office? Or, would it be better to open a smaller, more efficient telehealth operation? Health systems have already been grappling with the shift from inpatient to outpatient and the need for more urgent care, primary care, and ASC locations. Now, the rapid rise of telehealth use brings an added layer of complexity. The efficiencies and cost-savings that come with telemedicine are viable reasons to consider a robust telehealth operation over another outpatient facility.

Leveraging Data in Virtual Care Planning 

All-Payer Claims Data (APCD) provides unique insights that can inform hospitals and health systems as they prepare to respond to the growth of telemedicine. Knowing when and where to tap into these data-based insights will be critically important. Below are two viable considerations.

Following a Patient Through their Telemedicine Care Journey

Where does a patient go after their telemedicine visit? Were their issues resolved or did they end up back in the doctor’s office or at an urgent care? Having the ability to track utilization patterns and physician referrals will give planners a better understanding of patient needs so more insightful and informed growth plans can be developed. Utilizing Stratasan’s APCD, planners have access to a unique patient identifier, which can follow a patient as they go from point to point in their care journey, including how they interact with telehealth and where they go after a virtual visit.

Tracking Reimbursement Rates to Support Payer Negotiations

With APCD and Stratasan’s Market Reimbursement Analyzer, CFOs, planners, and directors of payer strategy can track telemedicine code reimbursement trends per state and payer. Tennessee providers, for example, are currently reimbursed $42 per telemedicine visit. But, given the rapid adoption of virtual care, and an awareness of how providers are reimbursed by payers in other states, this rate could change in the future. Equipped with this intelligence, providers can be better equipped in payer negotiations and can make the case for higher rates when possible.  

The Takeaway

The future for all aspects of healthcare is uncertain at the moment. There’s no way to know what’s to come. But with the forced move to adopt telehealth on a larger scale, it’s reasonable to think that patients will desire increased access to telehealth in the future and providers should start looking for ways to incorporate this form of care more broadly in the months and years to come. For more information on how data—particularly Stratasan’s APCD and our Market Reimbursement Analyzer tool—can inform more strategic telehealth growth planning, schedule a discovery call with one of our experts today. 

Article by Brian C. Young, SVP, Marketing and Product Management, and Lee Ann Lambdin, SVP of Healthcare Strategy for Stratasan

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