The Telemedicine Dilemma

by Dean J. Tullis

As I am talking to people about their telemedicine experiences, I’m surprised that so many are willing to put their patients at risk by using non-HIPAA compliant video solutions, even if it is temporarily allowed by the government. This concerns me because many practices and hospitals need to embrace this situation with technology by looking for ways to implement now (while the government pays for every type of telemedicine encounter) and in the future for telemedicine patient encounters.

I see three different groups working with and around telemedicine. The first group I’ll call “The Wait and See” group, which is waiting for the threat of the Coronavirus to pass over, hoping that they don’t ever have to investigate or implement a telemedicine program. This group will surely be passed by while other practices embrace this technology after realizing it can play a very big part in their practice for the future as people get used to the convenience of seeing their physician without physically having to be there.

The second group is the “Get over the Virus Hump” group, those who are looking for something just to get by until the pandemic passes. This group is not looking for a long-term solution and is not concerned about workflow or how to implement telemedicine in their practice long-term. Instead they’re looking for the least expensive (or free) and often non-HIPAA compliant telemedicine solution they can find.

By using free or inexpensive telemedicine solutions however, this group will have difficultly working this into their regular practice  as most of these platforms have no document exchange, payment process, virtual waiting room etc., that can resemble the interactions they currently have with their patients. This group will come to the conclusion that telemedicine does not work very well because of the platforms they have chosen to use that were based on price instead of functionality.

The third group I see realizes the need for change in how healthcare professionals engage on a daily basis with their patient population.  I call this group “The Healthcare Change Agents.”  They are the ones who see an opportunity with the current pandemic crisis to take advantage of this new telemedicine technology, especially now that the government’s willing to pay for any type of telemedicine encounter and as another way to engage with their patients. This group realizes that with, not only the immediate threat of the virus, but the long-term issues with the shrinking physician population, telemedicine provides access to specialists and assists patients who can’t  physically get to their physicians office for treatment.

These “Healthcare Change Agents” are taking telemedicine to a new level. They are providing access to treatment on a regular basis, based on appointments types such as follow ups, medication checks, prescription refills and more.  These same change agents are implementing telemedicine in stroke units and changing the curve on outcomes, as well as implementing telemedicine in emergency rooms, intensive care units, operating rooms, burn units, and other specialist areas and different departments, creating for faster response times and producing better patient outcomes.

With today’s technology there is no reason that a telemedicine appointment can’t resemble the traditional brick and mortar appointment. Just like the patient coming into your waiting room, telemedicine allows them to enter a virtual waiting room. Just like your receptionist handing your patient documents to fill out and sign, a telemedicine appointment follows the same process presenting the patient with documents to fill out and sign electronically. Just like your receptionist asking for a payment for their copay or other charges, a telemedicine appointment can prompt a patient to pay before entering the waiting room. Many of these “Healthcare Change Agents” have proven that there can be better workflows and better care with telemedicine technology.

This telemedicine technology can be duplicated in any department or physician’s office to enhance and streamline the workflow for both the patient and the physician. Don’t discount it as something temporary.