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More Vendors, Providers Integrating Telemedicine Data With EHRs

Posted on April 27, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

One of the biggest problems providers face in rolling out telemedicine is how to integrate the data it generates. Must doctors make some kind of alternate set of notes appropriate to the medium, or do they belong in the EHR? Should healthcare organizations import the video and notate the general contents? And how should they connect the data with their EHR?

While we may not have definitive answers to such questions yet, it appears that the telehealth industry is moving in the right direction. According to a new survey by the American Telemedicine Association, respondents said that they’re seeing growth in interoperability with EHRs, progress which has increased their confidence in telemedicine’s future.

Before going any further, I should note that the surveyed population is a bit odd. The ATA reached out not only to leaders in hospital systems and medical practices, but also “telehealth service providers,” which sounds like merely an opportunity for self-promotion. But leaving aside this issue, it’s still worth thinking a bit about the data, such as it is.

First, not surprisingly, the results are a ringing endorsement of telemedicine technology. The group reports that 83 percent of respondents said they’ll probably invest in telehealth this year, and 88 percent will invest in telehealth-related technology.

When asked why they’re interested in delivering these services, 98 percent said that they believe telehealth services offer a competitive advantage over those that don’t offer it. And 84 percent of respondents expect that offering telehealth services will have a big impact on their organization’s coverage and reach.

(According to another survey, by Avizia and Modern Healthcare, other reasons providers are engaging with telehealth is because they believe it can improve clinical outcomes and support their transition to value-based care.)

When it comes to documenting its key thesis – that the integration of EHR and telehealth data is proceeding apace – the ATA research doesn’t go the distance. But I know from other studies that telemedicine vendors are indeed working on this issue – and why wouldn’t they? Any sophisticated telemedicine vendor has to know this is a big deal.

For example, telemedicine vendor American Well has been working with a long list of health plans and health systems for a while, in an effort to integrate the telehealth process with provider workflows. To support these efforts, American Well has created an enterprise telehealth platform designed to connect with providers’ clinical information systems. I’ve also observed that DoctorOnDemand has made some steps in that direction.

Ultimately, everyone in telehealth will have to get on board. Regardless of where they’re at now, those engaging in telehealth will need to push the interoperability puck forward.

In fact, integrating telehealth documentation with EMRs has to be a priority for everyone in the business. Even if integrating clinical data from virtual consults wasn’t important for analytics purposes, it is important to collecting insurance reimbursement. Now that private health plans (and Medicare) are reimbursing for telemedical care, you can rest assured that they’ll demand documentation if they don’t like your claim. And when it comes to Medicare, arguing that you haven’t figured out how to document these details won’t cut it.

In other words, while there’s some overarching reasons why integrating this data is a good long-term strategy, we need to keep immediate concerns in mind too. Telemedicine data has to be seen as documentation first, before we add any other bells and whistles. Otherwise, providers will get off on the wrong foot with insurers, and they’ll have trouble getting back on track.

Time To Treat Telemedicine as Just “Medicine”

Posted on October 25, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Over the last year or two, hospitals and clinics have shown a steadily growing interest in offering telemedicine services. Certainly, this is in part due to the fact that health plans are beginning to pay for telehealth consults, offering a new revenue stream that providers want to capture, but there’s more to consider here.

Until recently, much of the discussion around telehealth centered on how to get health insurance companies to pay for it. But now, as value-based purchasing becomes more the norm, providers will need to look at telemedicine as a key tool for managing patient health more effectively.

Evidence increasingly suggests that making providers available via telemedicine channels can help better manage chronic conditions and avert needless hospitalizations, both of which, under value-based payments, are more important than getting a few extra dollars for a consult.

Looked at another way, the days of telehealth being a boutique service for more-sophisticated consumers are ending. “It’s time to treat telemedicine as just ‘medicine,’” one physician consultant told me. “It’s no different than any other form of medicine.”

As reasons for treating telehealth as a core clinical service increase, barriers to sharing video and other telemedical records are falling, the consultant says. Telemedicine providers can already push the content of a video visit or other telehealth consult into an EMR using HL7, and soon information sharing should go both ways, he notes.

What’s more, breaking down another wall, major EMR vendors are offering providers the ability to conduct a telehealth visit using their platform. For example, Epic is offering telemedicine services to providers via its MyChart portal and Hyperspace platform, in collaboration with telehealth video provider Vidyo. Cerner, which operates some tele-ICUs, has gone even further, with senior exec John Glaser recently arguing that telehealth needs to be a central part of its population health strategy.

Admittedly, even if providers develop a high level of comfort delivering care through telehealth platforms, it’s probably too soon to rely on this medium as an agent of change. If nothing else, the industry must face up to the fact that telemedicine demand isn’t huge among their patients at present, though consumer plays like AmWell and DoctoronDemand are building awareness.

Also, while scheduling and conducting telemedicine consults need not be profoundly different than holding a face-to-face visit — other than offering both patient and doctor more flexibility — working in time to manage and document these cases can still pose a workflow challenge. Practical issues such as how, physically, a doctor documents a telehealth visit while staring at the screen must be resolved, issues of scheduling addressed and even questions of how to store and retrieve such visit records must be thought through.

However, I think it’s fair to say that we’re past wondering whether telemedicine should be part of the healthcare process, and whether it makes financial sense for hospitals and clinics to offer it. Now we just have to figure out where and when.

Telemedicine Startup Offers Providers A Shot At Equity

Posted on April 22, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Over the last couple of years, the number of telemedicine vendors out there fighting for business has exploded.  These include DoctoronDemand, GoTelecare, HealthTap, MDLIVE, American Well and many, many more.

Health plans are jumping on the bandwagon too. For example, United Healthcare  has been running a popular national television campaign advertising its “virtual clinic” services. UHC is my plan, so I can attest that this service — shown as embedded in its member site — hasn’t been rolled out yet, but that only makes its desire to get out in front of the trend more noteworthy.

Telemedicine models in play include companies that recruit providers and sell them to consumers, vendors who enable telemedicine via proprietary platforms and firms that lead with community building. At present the direct-to-consumer players seem to be somewhat ahead, simply because they’ve already begun developing a national brand, but the story doesn’t end there.

Though consumer-facing telemedicine companies probably have a viable business model, they’ll have to build a memorable consumer brand to make it, something that takes a great deal of  time and money.  On the other hand, vendors that offer white-label telemedicine technology to hospitals and health plans have at least as much to gain, without having to win the loyalty of fickle consumers.

One telemedicine player doing just that is Nashville-based PointNurse, which has developed a distributed collaboration and communications platform providers can use to deliver telemedicine services. I just spoke to CEO Cyrus Maaghul, who gave me a company overview, and was interested to hear that his venture is taking things in some new directions.

PointNurse is different than most companies in the telemedicine space for a few reasons.

For one thing, the platform includes block chain capabilities, which allow providers to accumulate credits for both community participation and actual care delivery. (In case you aren’t familiar with block chain technology, which powers crypto currency Bitcoin, you may want to click here.)

These credits aren’t just for fun. Eventually, when providers accumulate enough credits, they get a pro-rata share of a dedicated pool of equity.

Consumers, for their part, are given a multi-signature wallet which stores both their personal and clinical information, resulting more or less in a PHR with added capabilities. PointNurse hasn’t yet devised a way to share the data with provider EMRs, but that’s a short-term goal.

A wide range of providers can participate in PointNurse, including not only MDs but also nurse practitioners, pharmacists, RNs, LPNs and elder advocates.

A sister venture, HealthCombix, will license the technology underlying PointNurse to hospitals and payers. HealthCombix will provide APIs and tools to build their own distributed applications.

As Maaghul sees it, it’s critical for providers to realize more than a short-term benefit from participating in telemedicine. “I wanted to make providers feel highly motivated — that they can gain from this [arrangement],” Maaghul said. “This creates value for the patient.”

Of course, there’s no proof yet that this or any particular telemedicine business model is going to capture its market niche.  In fact, it’s not even clear what niches will emerge in this space; after all, though it’s moving fast it’s far from mature.

That being said, this approach has some intriguing aspects. I’ll be interested to see whether its business model and and unusual underlying technology work out.

Telemedicine A Critical New Approach To Primary Care

Posted on August 15, 2014 I Written By

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Telemedical treatment has been a tantalizing possibility for many years, for reasons including a failure of health plans to pay for it and too little bandwidth to support it, but those reasons are quickly being trumped by the need for quick, cheap, convenient care.

In fact, according to research by Deloitte, 75 million of 600 million appointments with general practitioners will be via telemedicine channels this year alone.

While one might assume that this influx is coming from traditional primary care practices which are finding their way online, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Instead,a growing number of entrepreneurial startups are delivering primary care via smart phone and tablet, including Doctor on Demand and HealthTap, which offers videoconferences with PCPs, and options like Healthcare Magic and JustAnswer, which offer consumers the opportunity to get written responses to their healthcare queries from doctors.

Primary care doctors going into direct primary care are also joining the primary care telemedicine revolution; a key part of their business is based on making themselves available for consultation through all channels, including Skype/Facetime/Google Hangout meetings.

To date, most of the thinking about telemedicine have been that it’s an add-on service which is far to one side of the standard provision of primary care. However,with so many consumers paying out of pocket for primary care — and virtual visits typically priced far more cheaply than on-site visits — we may see a new paradigm emerge in which victims of  high-deductible plans and the uninsured rely completely on telemedical PCPs.

Rather than being merely a new technical development, I believe that the delivery of primary care via telemedical channels is a new form of ongoing primary care delivery.

It will take some work on the part of the telemedicine companies to sustain long-term relationships with patients, notably the use of an EMR to track ongoing care. And telemedicine PCPs will need to develop new approaches to working with other providers smoothly, as coordination of care will remain important. Health IT companies would be wise to consider robust, unified platforms that allow all of this to happen smoothly.

Regardless, the bottom line is that primary care telemedicine isn’t an intriguing sideline, it’s the birth of a new way to think about financing and delivery of care. Let’s see if traditional providers jump in, or if they let the agile new virtual PCP companies take over.