At Xtelligent Healthcare Media’s Value-Based Summit on Telehealth last week in Atlanta, ATA CEO Ann Mond Johnson challenged providers to look beyond 7 inaccurate descriptions of telehealth and embrace connected care.
Telehealth is slowly gaining a foothold in the US healthcare ecosystem, but it hasn’t taken that giant step forward that its supporters would like to see. And in Ann Mond Johnson’s opinion, it’s because connected care is getting a bad rap.
“It’s a very different world now,” the CEO of the American Telemedicine Association offered during last week’s Value-Based Care Summit on Telehealth in Atlanta. “And with all the technology available, I don’t think we’re executing it quite as well as we want.”
Johnson, who took the helm of the ATA last year and has been working to bring what had been a meandering organization back on track, delivered the Day 2 keynote at Xtelligent Healthcare Media’s second annual telehealth event with an eye to the future. That future, she said, will focus on “changing the story” from potential and promise to explaining why telehealth and mHealth should already be available to consumers and in every provider’s repertoire.
And that begins with dispelling a few myths.
Johnson feels that telehealth isn’t advancing as quickly as it should – some 20 percent of the country’s population is using it – because there are some misconceptions about how it’s working or what it does or doesn’t achieve. She listed seven in particular:
Telehealth is only for rural areas. While telemedicine technology was seen as a means of improving access to healthcare in rural and remote parts of the country, “there are plenty of medical deserts” in urban areas as well, she noted.
Those living in the middle of a city face access issues as often as those living in the boondocks – a point made by advocates seeking to eliminate geography-based restrictions in state laws and Medicare coverage.
Telehealth is more expensive. While telemedicine technology had, in the past, come with a hefty price tag, there are now plenty of opportunities to take advantage of easy and inexpensive platforms – such as the smartphone.
In addition, connected care technology is improving care and reducing inefficiencies in places such as skilled nursing facilities and in remote patient monitoring programs that extend care out of the hospital or office and into the home.
“We (now) have an opportunity to start documenting and cataloguing these cost savings,” Johnson said. “There are plenty of instances where we are saving a lot of money.”
Telehealth is not high quality. Today’s virtual care networks, using high-definition video and connected devices, can practically replicate the in-person health exam, Johnson noted. And those platforms will improve as more and more providers become comfortable with the technology and that technology continues to improve.
Likewise, telehealth and mHealth give providers an opportunity to increase collaboration with their patients outside of the few in-person visits scheduled each year. This, in turn, improves the quality of the doctor-patient relationship.
“This actually maintains high quality of care,” Johnson pointed out.
Telehealth is impersonal. Detractors have often argued that a video screen can’t replicate in-person care, but Johnson noted that virtual visits – especially those used in telemental health – often compel patient and provider to look each other in the eye. As well, the telemedicine platform can improve interactions for patients who aren’t comfortable seeing a doctor in person.
Telehealth providers prescribe more drugs than those treating patients in person. Johnson isn’t sold on a recent survey that indicated providers tend to write out more prescription during virtual visits, saying the issue is more about individual providers than the platform used. She also thinks a telehealth platform with audit capabilities can promote and even improve antibiotic stewardship.
“To pin it on the telehealth community and say we’re the bad guys in all of this is misleading,” she said.
Telehealth is a threat to providers. This, Johnson said, is more of an issue with awareness. Today’s providers are broken up into two camps: those who’ve been around for a while and aren’t keen on new technology or new workflows, and those coming up through the ranks who have lived with the technology and know how to use it.
“We may not have taught them how to use it,” she said of the first group. “You can’t just drop people in the middle of this and say, ‘Good luck.’”
The onus, Johnson says, is on organizations like the ATA and health systems to make the learning process easier, to show providers how to use the technology to improve not only clinical care but their own work-life balance.
Telehealth is only synchronous communication. While public perception of telehealth and telemedicine (and more than a few state laws) focuses on audio-visual platforms, the field is growing to embrace new care delivery concepts, including remote patient monitoring programs and asynchronous (also called store-and-forward) platforms. Where allowed, today’s telehealth encounter between a doctor and patient could involve online portals, personalized questionnaires, secure messaging platforms and wearables and smart devices that stream data back and forth.
“It’s really a difficult space to define,” Johnson says.
Going forward, Johnson ants the healthcare industry to stop whining about telehealth and spend more time putting the technology to its advantage. That means solving real problems, using and sharing meaningful data and reimagining how health and wellness should be organized.