A perspective piece published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) identifies key themes related to telehealth it says have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, social distancing efforts have prompted hospitals and physician offices to quickly scale up telehealth in order to care for patients, while limiting in-person contact. To best understand how healthcare institutions implemented this technology at the onset of and throughout the public health crisis, a team of medical experts compiled case studies pertaining to telehealth practices at UC Davis Medical Center, University of Arkansas for Medical Science (UAMS) and Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC).
Based on their research, the authors say, although application of telehealth can differ based on size, existing infrastructure and available resources, hospitals and healthcare organizations should consider the following to optimize its use:
- Cultivation of a workplace culture that supports new technology: “Staff must understand the value of change and innovation and be willing to modify practice to support it,” write the authors. Neri Cohen, of GBMC, shares the philosophy, explaining that, in order for telehealth use to be successful, it is essential physicians appreciate how the technology can support efficiency and improve patient care.
- Understanding that telehealth may be appropriate for certain patient populations and specialties and less suitable for others: Although there are some protocols in place, UC Davis’ James Marcin says that “ultimately, it should be left up to the physician’s perspective for the unique patient whether or not telemedicine is acceptable or preferable to in-person visits.”
- Appropriate use of telehealth ultimately depends on a physician’s clinical judgement: Experts at UAMS’ Institute for Digital Health & Innovation say physicians must evaluate each scenario. For example, first visits or those with particularly complicated patients might need to be in-person, while the follow up may be suitable for a video call.
- Adoption of remote monitoring technologies and procedures is also important: The authors explain that because patients may opt to receive services via telehealth going forward, healthcare systems should simultaneously incorporate remote monitoring technologies. Leaders at UC Davis’ Center for Health and Technology hope this resource will benefit “patients with special healthcare needs, multiple comorbidities, and/or high-risk conditions.”
The patient safety report also notes that alternative options must always be provided to patients who have limited access to the technology.
Visit the AHRQ website to read a complete overview of the case studies cited in the analysis.
MLMIC encourages physicians and facilities that are using telehealth to monitor the parameters they have put in place for the use of this technology including patient selection, privacy and security, and the overall effectiveness of caring for patients remotely.
Policyholders are reminded to monitor the MLMIC COVID-19 resource page and blog for additional support on navigating the pandemic, including information on the latest developments in medicine and government.