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What the pandemic taught independent practices about telehealth in the long term


During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telehealth surged. Virtual care that kept everyone safe and healthy became the preferred option for many independent practices and their patients. Third-party payers also recognized the importance of telehealth, adjusting their allowable reimbursements to include many aspects of providing care remotely. Now it’s important to review what the pandemic taught independent practices about telehealth in the long term.

For primary care visits where most of the appointment focuses on conversations between the provider and the patient, and does not require a lab or diagnostic test, telehealth has become a viable option since the peak of its popularity in early 2020. Remote care keeps the patient home and even allows the provider to conduct virtual visits from locations other than the physical practice office.

As we move forward, telehealth has become a sustainable option for patients and independent physicians alike. In fact, the opportunity for remote care has given some patients a new option for seeing a provider they may not otherwise have been able to access because of other challenges in their lives.

There are some challenges involved, still. Patients must have the technology necessary to conduct the virtual visit. Independent physicians must recognize this need when considering telehealth for the long term. They may even need to work with their patients to help them gain wi-fi access and overcome their potential resistance to change to help mitigate the obstacles in adapting to the new healthcare delivery method.

A pain point identified by physicians that must be resolved by independent practices in the long term is having a telehealth solution that is fully integrated with their electronic health records (EHRs). The systems must work together, supporting check-in workflows and seamless online payments. A single-screen, end-to-end solution is almost essential for supporting telehealth and improving patient outcomes.

Elation Health is focused on the technology that is purpose-built for the way physicians deliver excellent care, including telehealth. Learn more about a fully integrated EHR that is based on humanity and not on CPT codes.

Research conducted by McKinsey and Company found that about 40% of consumers surveyed said they believe they will continue to use telehealth going forward. That number has increased from 11% prior to the start of the pandemic.

Additionally, between 40% and 60% of consumers expressed an interest in broader virtual health solutions, including a “digital front door” and lower cost virtual-first health plans. For the long term, independent practices will need to continue focusing on creating a seamless consumer interface, breaking down the silos in providing care across virtual and in-person platforms, with improved data integration and insights.

The research also found that 58% of physicians continue to view telehealth more favorably now than before the start of the pandemic. As of April 2021, 84% of physicians were offering remote care and 57% would prefer to continue offering telehealth services. Health systems in value-based care arrangements are focused on understanding whether there is scalable volume decanting or cost savings potential at equivalent quality going forward with telehealth for the long term.

There has been a quick evolution of the telehealth space and innovation, going beyond the convenience of “virtual urgent care” seen in the early days of the pandemic. Researchers note the innovations around virtual longitudinal care, the enablement of care in the patient’s home through remote monitoring and self-diagnostics, and experimentation with hybrid models of in-office and telehealth visits that have the potential for developing new care models for consumers that will help achieve the “triple aim” of healthcare.

Challenges identified by the researchers, to be worked through to realize the full potential of telehealth for the long term, include:

  • Improved data integration and data flows across the various players in the ecosystem, in light of the quick proliferation of point solutions, which are overwhelming patients, independent physicians, and payers alike.
  • Better integration of the virtual health-related activities into day-to-day workflows of clinicians, particularly to enable hybrid care models that combine virtual and in-person care delivery.
  • Alignment of incentives for virtual health activities with the movement toward value-based care, breaking out of the fee-for-service mentality and the stress over reimbursement parity, especially for the virtual health models that aim to reduce total cost of care.