The COVID-19 pandemic forced the healthcare system to adapt at a breakneck pace, specifically with telehealth. McKinsey found that in April 2020 overall telehealth usage for office visits and outpatient care was 78 times higher than in February that same year. The same study also discovered that by the summer of 2021, telehealth usage had increased 38X from the pre-COVID-19 baseline.
In the last few years, telehealth has evolved from a niche service used only by the most tech-forward healthcare providers and consumers, to a foundational piece of the modern healthcare system.
Telehealth has become more accessible too, enabling healthcare payers to further health equity efforts. In 2022 for example, the U.S. government passed the Advancing Telehealth Beyond COVID-19 Act. This allowed Medicare patients access to telehealth services, including audio-only formats, through 2024.
And as of 2023, many Medicare and Medicaid payers around the country have opted to include or expand telehealth coverage for members. While both have flexibility in terms of what telehealth services are covered, payers around the country are opting to either launch or expand telemedicine options
Health Plan Members Want Telehealth Options
A recent poll of medical groups by MGMA also found that 72% expected patient demand for telehealth to stay the same or increase in 2023. This is unsurprising given telehealth options offer patients more convenience and flexibility than traditional care delivery methods.
Telehealth encompasses a wide range of technologies including live videoconferencing, health services via mobile devices (phones, tablets), remote patient monitoring devices, and electronic mail or communication systems used for transmitting communications or data.
With this dramatic change becoming the new normal, and an easy, convenient, and cost-effective option for reaching health plan members on employer plans, Medicaid and Medicare Advantage, many healthcare organizations are assessing the landscape and thinking about how they want to manage their telehealth programs going forward.
Below, we look at four considerations necessary to a successful telehealth program and choosing the right technologies.
1. Does Your Telehealth Solution Support Your Organization’s Long-Term Goals?
The rapid increase in demand for telehealth during the pandemic, coupled with loosened government restrictions, led many healthcare providers to seek out the fastest path to bring telehealth to their patients. Many chose consumer solutions like Zoom or Facetime to meet with patients because they were easy to bring online quickly.
However, these platforms come with some significant drawbacks when used in a healthcare setting:
- Security concerns – Many consumer videoconferencing applications have limited security controls, especially when dealing with HIPAA compliance and PHI data. When considering a platform’s viability, it’s important for organizations to think about how well the platform supports data security and compliance.
- Data interoperability – With the rapid growth of all forms of healthcare applications, data in healthtech is becoming more siloed. An ideal telehealth platform for healthcare organizations should easily connect with the rest of your technology stack to share data and ensure care gaps are documented. Ensuring data interoperability is key.
- Technology onboarding fatigue – Learning, implementing, and managing multiple pieces of software for each telehealth visit can create stress for staff and reduce the care team’s overall productivity and efficiency. When considering a new telehealth application, organizations should seek to minimize staff distractions and deliver a solution that seamlessly integrates with the core care management platform.
When looking for a long-term solution, organizations should carefully consider how well potential platforms align with their organizational risk policies, data interoperability, and technology guidelines to ensure long-term viability and value for the organization.
2. Is Your Telehealth Platform Healthcare-focused and HIPAA-Compliant?
The changing legislative landscape plays a separate, significant, and sometimes overlooked, element in influencing how healthcare organizations evaluate their telehealth programs.
In the early phases of the pandemic, the Centers for Medicare Studies (CMS) loosened many of their guidelines around telehealth to enable providers to meet immediate patient needs. Many state legislations followed suit, enabling state Medicaid programs to perform similar tasks via telehealth.
At this point, it is still unclear exactly where these regulations will land once the pandemic is but a distant memory, and telehealth has reached universal adoption rates. Healthcare organizations should consider that some of the changing guidelines and requirements may continue to evolve over time.
They should select a telehealth platform that is committed to meeting the changing requirements of the healthcare industry, while simultaneously aligning with CMS guidance. HELIOSvisit for example is
HIPPA-compliant and meets HITRUST’s gold standard for information security criteria.
3. Does Your Telehealth Platform Improve the Patient Experience?
As the adoption of telehealth continues to mature, populations who routinely experience the healthcare system through telehealth appointments will expand.
- Does your telehealth solution meet the needs of a broader audience?
- Will differing devices and levels of sophistication make the telehealth experience a challenge for some users?
When selecting a telehealth solution, healthcare organizations need to consider the telehealth platform that maximizes each user’s experience, both for improving patients’ outcomes and for maximal care team efficiency.
For patients, this also means reducing the barriers to usage, including access to Wi-Fi and technology, as well as considering how to adapt to varying levels of tech literacy.
- Does your chosen telehealth platform work on a variety of devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.)?
- Does it require downloading an app or can a user just click a link and join from their browser?
- Can individuals with differing disabilities and/or handicaps interact with the solution effectively?
All of these pieces of the telehealth experience are potential additional hurdles for a patient to jump through that may limit their adoption of telehealth.
4. Does Your Telehealth Solution Improve Care Team Efficiency and Effectiveness?
After seeing significant increases in care team burnout and attrition during the pandemic, many healthcare organizations are hesitant to add more responsibilities to the care team’s responsibility. When considering a telehealth platform, organizations need to consider the added complexity of their tech stack and the effort that effective usage will require from the care team.
- Does the telehealth solution easily integrate with the other software that the care team has to use?
- How many different technologies can the care team successfully manage during a virtual appointment?
Healthcare organizations will see the most value from a well-integrated telehealth platform that makes the care team more efficient and allows the data from a telehealth appointment to be ingested into the larger tech ecosystem, reducing manual entry and administrative tasks required for each telehealth appointment.
Discover Built-In Telehealth Options
VirtualHealth has been a pioneer in telehealth since long before the COVID-19 pandemic. We created HELIOSvisit specifically to address the telehealth needs of leading value-based care organizations.
HELIOSvisit offers the care team a seamless way to launch a fully secure and HIPAA-compliant telehealth visit from within their care management software with the click of a button. Patients love it because it does not require any additional apps to download; they simply click a link that they receive via email or text right from their mobile device. Care teams love it because it is fully integrated with the larger HELIOS care management platform so they can quickly initiate calls with one click, and all interactions are automatically logged.
After the success of HELIOSvisit, our team launched HELIOStext for outbound secure text messaging, and HELIOSgo for mobile care management in the field, and on-the-go.
 The Evidence Base for Telehealth: Reassurance in the Face of Rapid Expansion During the COVID-19 Pandemic | Effective Health Care (EHC) Program. (n.d.). https://effectivehealthcare.ahrq.gov/products/telehealth-expansion/white-paper
 Telehealth utilization and patient demand in 2023: Best guesses and best practices. (n.d.). https://www.mgma.com/data/data-stories/telehealth-utilization-and-patient-demand-in-2023