What COVID-19 regulations have lead to the progression of the telemedicine movement, and how we can ensure that telehealth continues to grow

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a complete disruption of our healthcare system. As infection risk grew, news reports of hospitals unable to accommodate the growing number of COVID patients were widespread.

In reality, the very early days of the pandemic looked different. According to a study published by the National Syndromic Surveillance Program, ED visits in March and April of 2020 were down 42 percent, and additional surveys found that in-clinic visits dropped to 20-30 percent of their usual volume.

Why? The emergence of telehealth.

The progression of telemedicine as a result of COVID-19

COVID-19 fueled rapid development and adoption of quality telemedicine solutions to provide a broader range of health services.

In March 2020, telemedicine visits rose by over 1000 percent year over year as both patients and providers moved to quick adoption of telehealth. Since then, use of telemedicine has remained high—even outside peak periods of COVID-19. This achievement, completed in months, would normally take a decade to accomplish and would be impossible without the recent changes in healthcare regulations.

CMS changes impacting telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic

CMS restrictions previously barred widespread telehealth use in many Medicare and Medicaid populations. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a shift in these regulations, with CMS allowing telehealth visits to be originated from a patient’s home and be reimbursed at the same rate as an in-person visit.

These shifts allowed patients living in rural and urban communities the same access to telehealth and made telemedicine a financially viable choice for providers through parity of payment.

Additional administrative changes were made outside the CMS scope that furthered the growth of telemedicine. These included the removal of cross-state restrictions on medical licenses for telemedicine visits and a relaxation of HIPAA regulations to facilitate information sharing across providers for improved continuity of care.

The results of change: Improved care at reduced costs

The current pandemic serves as a pilot for telehealth, ultimately proving that remote care brings numerous benefits—including improved cost and quality of care. This is especially true for telehealth platforms like Steth IO that rival in-person visits by offering full remote examination capabilities in addition to traditional telemedicine audiovisual functionality.

In addition, telemedicine surpasses in-person care with its ability to provide timely access to care. Patients who struggle to get in and see a provider due to limited exam rooms and appointments—or personal inability to take time off work, travel, or find childcare—can receive needed care when and where they need it, reducing the risk of condition exacerbation and high-cost utilization.

Reducing costs of care through telemedicine

Insurers and providers are reducing costs with the minimal overhead required for digital and remote health visits. Currently, 88 percent of studies show that telemedicine is an effective tool for achieving meaningful cost savings compared to conventional lines of care.

But even this decrease in overhead is minimal to the long-term cost savings both insurers and patients will see as patients are more effectively triaged—reducing the need for walk-in clinics as well as high-cost ED utilization and readmissions. When the cost of technology implementation is covered through government grants or funding from innovative programs like VBID, those savings are even more significant.

Continuing to improve healthcare post-pandemic through telemedicine

Telehealth is here to stay, but its strength and reach will depend on maintaining a number of the regulations and “wins” that facilitate its current widespread use. With the right policies in place, telehealth can be the default system of care—guaranteeing better access to healthcare across populations and ensuring infrastructures are in place to provide consistent, quality care, even in the event of another public health crisis.

Improving and maintaining beneficial telehealth policies post-covid

The relaxed HIPAA regulations will ultimately need to return to their former stringencies, but other regulations created for telehealth mid-pandemic should be considered for long-term adoption as we move forward.

For example, robust telemedicine platforms with diagnostic capabilities like that provided by Steth IO and its Spot device have proven to be an acceptable match for in-person care and should be billed and reimbursed as such. Code classifications may differ, but ultimately telehealth payments need to remain reimbursable in parity with traditional clinic visits.

In addition, the medical licensure restrictions across state lines may go back into effect, but we now have goals that we can strive for in seeking out a national healthcare telehealth license or increased reciprocity between state licenses for telehealth.

Telehealth as the new normal

The U.S. is well-positioned to make all healthcare visits, by default, a remote healthcare visit. Even now, roughly 70 percent of clinical visits taking place—both in primary care and in many specialties—could already be taking place effectively with telemedicine.

Using the innovation momentum gathered from the current pandemic to create long term change in how insurers and providers think about, utilize, and advocate for telemedicine—both within the healthcare system and through patient outreach—can open doors for a quality and cost-effective solution for addressing, diagnosing, and treating many conditions. This ultimately strengthens our health system, reduces the cost of care, increases the quality of care, and improves the access for care across populations for better overall health outcomes.

Steth IO to be featured on FOX Business Network

Check out our segment airing Sunday, September 12, 2021 at 5:30pm EST on FOX Business Network as sponsored content.

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Mastering the continuous care model with telemedicine

How Telaspot by Steth IO is creating scalable, continuous care solutions that work for small practices and large health systems alike

The COVID-19 pandemic provided the motivation for rapid adoption of telehealth and remote patient monitoring across the U.S., but the utility of such digital health solutions extends beyond the pandemic—with 65 percent of providers agreeing that telehealth will remain just as or more important following the pandemic. 

Why?

Done right, telemedicine can offer an all-in-one solution designed to improve the continuous care model through regular communication during and between provider visits. The Telaspot by Steth IO provides such next-generation telemedicine capabilities with an all-in-one system designed to schedule patient visits, complete audio-visual calls with device-enabled diagnostic capabilities, send messages between patients and their physicians, and facilitate remote patient monitoring—all within a platform that can be customized and branded to match your clinic.

Breaking down silos and simplifying implementation through full integration capabilities

The average time to implementation for a digital health platform or service can be anywhere between 16 to 24 months, requiring the provider to go through multiple rounds of certification, implementation, and cross-platform integration with each new technology added. Not only is this time-consuming, but costly—with studies showing that the cost of technology implementation alone for a small provider practice reaches upwards of $70K.

It’s no surprise, then, that a 2019 survey conducted among C-level healthcare executives found that integration between health IT solutions was the number one challenge across our healthcare system—with 92 percent of executives citing difficulty implementing digital health solutions.

The Telaspot alleviates traditional integration concerns by owning the IT infrastructure necessary to build a complete continuous care platform that can be deployed literally within a few minutes. With one-click implementation, providers can launch their virtual clinic and begin enrolling patients. Once patients are enrolled and an order is placed for their device, Steth IO will ship the connected device to the patient’s home within four days.

No extra lengthy or costly integrations. No IT team needed. Just click, enroll, order, and you’re ready to go.

Building patient trust in telehealth

Your patients trust you—and your practice. But when it comes to logging into third-party devices, platforms that are set up differently than what patients are used to can create barriers to trust and engagement. 

While some larger clinics solve for this with costly organization-wide platforms built specifically for them, many small-and-midsize clinics must rely instead on non-branded telemedicine platforms that feel asynchronous and disconnected. As patients toggle between multiple platforms for scheduling, telehealth visits, and remote patient monitoring for connected devices, this lack of compatibility can lead to frustration and confusion.

Telaspot provides an advanced, device-enabled telemedicine solution that allows clinics, both large and small, to operate telemedicine, communication, scheduling, and remote patient monitoring seamlessly under one, unified brand: yours.

Whether a clinic consists of one provider or belongs to an entire healthsystem, the Telaspot platform offers scalable, customizable interfaces—without lengthy IT implementation processes. Simply upload your logo and brand specifics, and your patients will be able to schedule and attend appointments, send messages, and submit and track key RPM vitals within one platform under the brand they trust.

Creating long-term scalability through high patient engagement and affordable cost

Regardless of it’s merits, a product is only helpful if the patients are able to use it and providers are able to afford it.

With smartphone compatibility that enables patients to use the device and connect with providers from their smartphone, the Telaspot platform is both convenient, portable, and intuitive—making it easy to use from home… or anywhere else the patient may be. When used in combination with provider guidance during live examinations, patients can ensure effective device readings for the most accurate data.

Furthermore, the Telaspot platform is designed to be scalable—offering customized pricing to meet providers and clinics where they’re at. And its simplified one-click implementation and one-platform integration capabilities yield significant upfront cost savings for both large and small clinics alike.

Delivering quality continuous care

Simple, flexible, and scalable, the Telaspot telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and communication platform delivers next-generation telemedicine for clinicians that can connect to any mobile device.

The benefits?

Patients receive better continuous care as they easily communicate with physicians, schedule and attend examinations, and regularly submit and share key vitals with providers to monitor and regulate conditions. And providers improve care and trust through a uniquely branded platform that is scalable in both technology and price.

Healthcare costs in the US have steadily risen for decades, accounting for $3.8 trillion or 17.7 percent of the country’s GDP. Because of this, one in five Americans skip or have skipped needed healthcare due to cost concerns—leading to a need for cost intervention.

With certain changes, telemedicine platforms can help reduce healthcare costs at a scalable level to accomplish significant cost savings for payers, providers, and patients alike.

The challenges with our current high-cost, low efficacy telemedicine system

Today’s telemedicine exhibits limited capacities—lacking the precise clinical examination necessary for long term adoption.

Integrating technology and connected devices to collect objective measurements, such as heart and lung sounds, into telemedicine platforms can help support better quality of care. However, further advancements are necessary to ensure that such integrations do not result in higher care costs.

Many of today’s telemedicine platforms represent significant cost for the clinicians using them. As a result, their use results in increased operating costs and overall healthcare costs. To truly lower costs, we need to replace the existing, expensive healthcare delivery system of today with a scalable, effective system that is easy to use—all in one integrated platform.

Improving ease of delivery by increasing accessibility through reduced patient-facing cost

Creating expensive technologies to replace our existing telemedicine platforms is not an answer for reducing costs. Instead, keeping the cost of telemedicine low enough to be scalable across patient populations is important in addressing the rising healthcare costs and making telemedicine a meaningful solution.

Currently, the connected devices required to ensure quality telemedicine visits typically cost upwards of $300, depending on the type of device. With many of these costs being patient-facing, the devices present unrealistic solutions in many households where individuals are unable or unwilling to purchase such an expensive device.

Increasing the accessibility of next-generation telemedicine platforms begins with making the technology and devices available, affordably. For example, Steth IO is a robust telemedicine platform that combines traditional audio-visual remote visits with a smartphone-compatible connected device that captures patient heart and lung sounds and generates visualizations of those sounds to highlight potential irregularities and problems. Despite its unique integrated telemedicine platform, the Steth IO platform provides significant cost savings compared to similar devices and platforms—making it a more viable and accessible solution for patients, their providers, and health plans.

Solutions like Steth IO that allow for meaningful telemedicine visits while keeping costs low ensure quality telemedicine is accessible for the general public and help fuel telemedicine expansion. As such, the devices become essential medical equipment to be kept at home—the same way many households keep a thermometer in their medicine cupboard. And unlike prescribed medications, connected devices do not have a shelf life making them an integral tool for years to come. 

When we make the needed diagnostic devices more widely available, a paradigm shift occurs as telemedicine becomes an ongoing viable option for not only diagnosed patients with chronic conditions, but for those who may just need a clinician visit once or twice a year. Time and space shrink, giving more people access to care-–and clinicians the opportunity to see more patients with lower overhead.

Building affordable telemedicine at scale by reducing provider and payer overhead

Up until the pandemic, telemedicine provided a largely niche market, catering to those who were unable to leave the house or lived in remote areas that made visiting an in-person clinic difficult.

The next generation of telemedicine provides opportunities for all—including patients living next door to a clinic—to receive quality care without having to go into the clinic. With the right connected devices at home, patients can book an appointment, pay, and complete their visit all via their personal cell phone.

Bringing telemedicine out of a niche market and into a mass market significantly reduces care costs without compromising the quality of care. As more and more visits can be done effectively by telemedicine, providers are free to reduce spend on non-value-add expenses that are traditionally necessary in an in-person clinical setting. This could include reducing money spent on maintaining large clinic spaces and exam rooms, staffing reception desks and large teams of physician assistants, or even saving on smaller upfront costs like cleaning supplies and PPE. Over time, these changes result in across-the-board savings for payers, clinicians, and patients alike and an affordable long-term solution to reducing our high healthcare costs.

The cost savings associated with next generation telemedicine programs

The reduced costs that payers, clinicians, and patients see will ultimately pay for the cost of these technologies set up.

For payers, frameworks exist that reimburse payers for deploying these technologies into patient homes. As such, some payers opt to cover the cost of providing devices like blood pressure machines, or integrated telehealth platforms like the Steth IO that help ultimately reduce the cost of care on all fronts—including reducing high-cost utilization such as preventable ED utilization, inpatient admissions, and readmissions.

For clinicians, operational expenses are reduced as less money is needed to maintain, furnish, and staff a large brick-and-mortar clinic, resulting in lower overhead and significant savings. Patients also see savings as integrated telemedicine platforms allow them to stay connected with their physician—without incurring the cost of travel, childcare, or loss of pay that often accompany travel to a physical clinic.

As more integrated telehealth platforms continue to prove reduced costs—and maintain quality of care—our “next-generation telemedicine” ultimately becomes the next generation of healthcare.

Restoring patient and physician trust in telehealth

3 things that need to happen if telehealth will remain a viable healthcare option post-pandemic—and why they need to

Mahesh Mulumudi, MD

Carmen was a 48-year-old mother of three with diagnosed type 2 diabetes. A single mother, she was working extra shifts to help her youngest attend the nearby state college when she started experiencing shortness of breath and heart palpitations.

Concerned about missing work, Carmen had opted for a virtual doctor’s visit—explaining her symptoms quickly during a ten-minute break in her car. She was diagnosed with anxiety and prescribed a care plan that included a short-term dosage of anxiety medication and follow-up visits with a virtual therapist. Within weeks, Carmen ended up in the emergency department where, upon further examination, it was discovered she had a weak heart pump and was experiencing acute heart failure.

Unfortunately, Carmen’s story is not unique—and it’s instances like this that lead patients and providers alike to remain wary of telehealth.

The loss of trust in healthcare

While a public health crisis has necessitated fast adoption of telehealth, a J.D. Power Telehealth Satisfaction study shares that 43 percent of surveyed patients feel telehealth is cold or “impersonal,” and nearly half believe telehealth offers a lower quality of care than in-person physician visits.

And the lack of confidence goes both ways.

More than ten years after the introduction of Teledoc, arguably the first modern telehealth platform, 75 percent of physicians were still reporting high levels of distrust in telehealth as a viable option for correctly diagnosing a patient. Six years later, the numbers have improved, but only slightly.

Combining better audio-visual capabilities with remote patient monitoring devices can help restore both patient and physician trust in telemedicine’s capacity for long-term, effective value-based care. 

Restoring confidence through like-live examinations

Pitfalls of today’s telemedicine system that drive patient and provider distrust include strictly-asynchronous telemedicine models where patient information is submitted for a physician’s later review, or audio-only phone calls where providers lack the opportunity to observe the patient through the addition of live video.

While implementing these “store and forward” or audio-based telemedicine platforms can seem faster to implement than platforms that facilitate live audio-visual telemedicine calls, these models ultimately set both patient and provider up for quick wins rather than reliable, long term gains.

Conversely, a report published by the American Psychiatric Association reviewed 30 randomized controlled trials involving live video-conferencing examinations and found that “With the exception of one study, the review found no statistical difference in clinical outcomes… delivered by synchronous video-conferencing treatment and in-person treatment.”

While it’s easier to see the feasibility of audio-visual calls in addressing mental and behavioral health conditions, these same principles notably improve the quality of care received by chronic care patients as well. When coupled with additional connected devices that offer insight into physical conditions, the visits provided through telehealth services further improve and can even begin to rival the standards of care patients would receive in a traditional clinical visit.

Improving chronic condition care by introducing connected devices into live examinations

Telemedicine as it exists today relies highly on surface level information—things a physician can observe with the eye or be told by a patient—but lacks the ability to observe what’s happening inside the body. As such, evaluating patients through traditional telemedicine practices continues to pose challenges because it still involves a lot of guesswork on the part of the physician—leading to less-confident diagnoses from providers and less confidence in those diagnoses from the patients.

The addition of connected devices—especially for patients with chronic conditions who are seen regularly—can alleviate this guesswork by offering ways for patients to share, and providers to observe, things like heart and lung sounds.

The Steth IO Spot addresses this gap by providing a digital stethoscope that can plug directly into a patient’s smartphone to capture heart and lung sounds as part of a live audio-visual examination via the Steth IO telemedicine platform. As a result, this remote care experience becomes clinical and life-like as patients and providers are able to talk to and see each other while also listening to heart and lung sounds as though the patient was physically in the exam room. 

Furthermore, the Steth IO platform augments the telemedicine experience by visually representing sounds from the Spot device on the provider screen—allowing physicians to quickly identify potential issues that would have been more difficult to diagnose by ear alone and triage care accordingly.

For a case like Carmen, having these capabilities upfront could have helped the provider recognize early stages of heart failure more quickly—even at her younger age—and prescribe a more appropriate care plan that would have reduced her risk of needing to be admitted to the hospital.

Providing continued support through ongoing education, reminders, and monitoring

Current patient support functionality, for many healthcare organizations, consists solely of a printed visit summary following an appointment—summarizing what was discussed, outlining expectations, and listing what follow-up the patient needs to take. Where these summaries end, however, the capabilities of telemedicine platforms begin—reestablishing patient trust through better virtual support via telehealth.

In addition to visit summaries, telehealth platforms offer ongoing, comprehensive direction tailored to each patient’s condition and situation in real time. For example, patients can get notifications to take medications, follow their diets, complete daily at-home rehab regimens and schedule their five-day follow-up appointments—all within one app.

For telemedicine platforms like Steth IO that are able to combine live audio-visual visits with remote patient monitoring within a single platform that also offers post-exam support, patient experience is both simplified and improved. As a result, the comprehensive support provided—which would not have been possible through a clinical visit alone—leads to better patient trust and better overall outcomes.

The bottom-line benefits of telemedicine

The long-term benefits that telemedicine can offer patients with chronic conditions far outweigh the initial cost of platform integration, but only when we’re willing to commit the time and resources upfront to following best practices and establishing models that help both patients and their providers feel confident in the technology. When this is achieved, patient health outcomes and quality of life improve—as do care costs over time.

It has been proven that audio-visual visits achieve average short-term cost reductions between $19-$121 per visit in cost avoidance—and larger long-term savings as patients avoid unnecessary emergency and inpatient utilization, readmissions, and more. Furthermore, as we improve the quality of our virtual visits through platforms like Steth IO, we can reduce the pressure providers feel to order extra and unnecessary tests—a large source of unnecessary cost to both patient and payers—that overcompensate for lack of confidence in the diagnosis as a result from poor telehealth platforms.

As we continue to fine-tune our telehealth capabilities, telemedicine platforms like Steth IO will become a key player in affordably improving patient care as we move past the pandemic and into a healthcare system that is increasingly more focused on value-based models of care.

Newchip Virtual Demo Week

Every two months, Newchip hosts a week-long online conference that combines the best expert-led panels with a demo showcase of our global startup portfolio. These conferences are free and open for investors, potential partners, and new entrepreneurs – and this week, we are excited that StethIO’s President & CEO, Dr. Mahesh Mulumudi, MD, is among the presenters.

You can learn more by visiting Newchip’s site!