Improving Telehealth Effectiveness Through Vitals

How providers are overcoming the downfalls of traditional audio-visual telehealth with a single smartphone plug-in

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the catalyst for rapid acknowledgment and adoption of telehealth services across the country, and the new CMS policies for 2021 suggest this adoption could be long-term—even once the pandemic ends.

For organizations looking to expand their telehealth services, the top-down support being given from government agencies makes this the perfect time to strengthen telehealth and remote patient monitoring options by overcoming traditional digital health downfalls and increasing security to better serve populations with chronic and acute care needs.

Vitals are vital: bridging gaps through real-time data

While telemedicine offers greater freedom to have doctor visits from the comfort and safety of a patient’s home, concerns that virtual visits are unable to complete key components of check-ups—such as listening to heart and lung sounds—have posed barriers into long-term adoption.

Mahesh Mulumudi, MD, practicing interventional cardiologist, and CEO of Steth IO shares:

If you are seeing a patient with COPD by audio visual technology, you can ask questions about whether they are short of breath, but you cannot objectively evaluate how the air flow is in their lungs. You need to listen to the lungs to get a feel for what to do next—whether that’s triaging and helping this patient along at home, sending this patient to the ED, or referring the patient to another type of therapy. And that is just one example of a condition where this type of real time active listening to the lungs might make a difference in both chronic and acute care situations.

Steth IO—a uniquely blended hardware and software technology—is bridging this gap. Its remote cardiopulmonary monitors allow physicians to listen to heart and lung sounds as part of real-time virtual visits.

Relying on a small, device-agnostic stethoscope that plugs into patient smartphones, the technology transmits heart and lung sounds—along with visual representations of those sounds—in real time to doctors on the other end of the audio-visual call. This allows the physician to not only check vitals, but have the information needed to reliably identify potential issues and diagnosis appropriate next steps.

Strengthening patient data safety

Concerns about patient privacy continue to cause ongoing concern with telehealth expansion—with over 41 million patient records breached in 2019 (a 48% increase over 2018)—and the federal government temporarily relaxing HIPAA laws during the pandemic.

While telehealth has not been cited as the cause for these breaches, as its use expands, so do fears about meeting HIPAA guidelines and—more importantly—ensuring patient information remains safe.

HIPAA represents a set of laws that organizations agree to uphold, but accountability to those laws is limited. Working with telehealth solutions like Steth IO that are certified through security regulation entities like HITRUST—and adherent to HIPAA laws—can ensure a higher standard of protection and accountability for data shared. In addition, HITRUST certification must be renewed every two years, ensuring ongoing quality control and checks for better data safety.

Telehealth: seeing the benefits beyond the pandemic

While the need for social distancing and face masks will likely subside with the release and wide administration of a vaccine, the importance of live telehealth will not. Remote care—while important for providing safe care during the pandemic—has benefits that reach beyond what traditional brick-and-mortar doctor’s offices are better able to offer.

Telehealth has the potential to fill gaps in lower-acuity care by making it easier for care teams to see more patients with less overhead and exam rooms. Dr. Mulumudi continues:

U.S. healthcare costs and quality of care is hurting because we’re not able to keep up with the volume of patients that need care. Depending on the condition, though, almost 60% to 70% of these needed clinic visits can be done on telemedicine; they don’t really need to come into an office. Using technologies like Steth IO to truly evaluate patients remotely will allow more patients to be seen, evaluated and delivered therapy.

In addition, by bringing the check-ups to patients where they are, remote monitoring technology helps overcome barriers posed by social determinants of health that traditionally prevent vulnerable patients from getting the care they need—leading to condition exacerbation and increased likelihood of a visit to the ER.

When patients are able to complete live check-ups at home or work with devices like Steth IO and their own smartphone, hassles like lack of transportation, finding suitable childcare, or taking two hours off of work become non-existent, increasing the likelihood of the individual getting the appropriate preventative care.

The expansion of digital health offers an exciting frontier for healthcare, and by leveraging available funding, waivers, and reimbursements, implementing safe, effective solutions like Steth IO has become more affordable and profitable than ever. In addition, care costs are reduced through lower overhead with the increase in virtual visits, and more patients receive appropriate preventative care. Ultimately, unnecessary hospitalization is avoided—and patient outcomes improve.

You obviously want to provide your patients with high-quality care and you want to be the best physician you can be. But, if you’re overworked or stressed, it could result in physician burnout. If this happens, not only will you find it more and more difficult to get through your days at work, but the quality of care for your patients may decline as well.

The Burnout, Stress and Overworked Factors

Did you know that overall,42 percent of physicians are suffering from burnout?  And, burnout doesn’t just negatively affect the experience your patients have at your office, it can also affect patient outcomes adversely. When your extremely tired or distracted during a patient visit, you’re not paying complete attention to what they’re telling you. This could cause you to miss important history information which could indicate a completely different health problem than what your patients initially came into your office for.

Being overworked and experiencing stress are other factors. There are various reasons why physicians become so stressed, it prevents them from performing their jobs effectively. Some common reasons why you could become stressed are:

  • A lack of autonomy when working with patients.
  • A lack of control over the way you use your time.
  • Feeling pressured to provide care to as many patients each day as
  • possible to maintain the profitability of your organization.

Because of this, healthcare doctors often report their work-life balance is poorer than individuals working in other fields.  Fortunately, there is a newer approach many physicians are taking these days to avoid burnout, stress and distractions and improve the quality of patient care — telemedicine.

Telemedicine for Physicians

Telemedicine is healthcare facilitated by means of phone, video and other telecommunications technology to provide patient care without the need for a face-to-face visit.

There’s been a transformation in the physician/patient relationship over the past 20 years and the arrival of telemedicine technology has contributed to this greatly, particularly in recent years. Advanced technologies provide telemedicine opportunities for physicians that can alleviate some of the challenges that afflict the healthcare system like access to convenient care. A lot of organizations all over the country have begun taking advantage of telemedicine to improve: 

  • Patient experience
  • Operational efficiency
  • Financial portfolios

Steth IO Health for Telemedicine

But, telemedicine should be more than a phone or video call. Most available telemedicine tools today don’t have exam capabilities, like Steth IO. The device within the Steth IO Health umbrella is ideal for home use, which makes it an efficient telemedicine platform.

Steth IO is an iPhone app that turns your phone into a stethoscope. It’s made of three components:

  • A software app you download from the AppStore
  • A case that fits right on your iPhone
  • Assisted Intelligence (AI) to help you make diagnoses with confidence

The case, which is beautifully designed, has an integrated audio waveguide which works by filtering sounds the diaphragm sends and presents them to the microphone. The iPhone’s software app does the rest. Steth IO stethoscope contains a few pieces of technology, enabling an array of features that are designed for improving the information you  have to diagnose and monitor your patients.

Steth IO Health introduces true telemedicine to your patients at home by allowing remote patient exams and monitoring. Patient exams provide valuable data that can affect your clinical decision making and improve patient satisfaction and experience. Being able to expand your practice beyond the walls of your office will allow you to:

  • Create a hybrid practice
  • Reduce physician burnout
  • Increase the efficiency of patient care

Reasons to Look into Telemedicine Opportunities for Physicians

There are several reasons why you’d want to practice telemedicine, including:

1. Get Paid for Follow-Up Calls

Many physicians spend time each day answering messages from patients and making phone calls to follow-up or inform of new conditions. With telemedicine, you can perform this follow-up service over video, have a more personalized visit and even receive reimbursement for this care you provide.

2. Have More Flexibility

Telemedicine provides a great opportunity for doctors in different stages of their career such as:

  • Established physicians who would like to supplement their income
  • Newly graduated residents who’re looking to explore career settings
  • Clinicians who are planning on retiring and would like to phase out their practice and maybe work from home instead

3. Have Improved Access to Care

Telemedicine enables you to provide enhanced access for acute issues during and after office hours. Those patients who aren’t accustomed to being able to visit a board-certified doctor in the middle of the night when struggling with a sudden problem will be happy to have access to this on-demand care. 

This will also improve continuity since you’re caring for the acute conditions under your brand and practice instead of by the local urgent-care center or emergency room. This will naturally build up loyalty and trust to you and your practice and keep your patients experiencing only mild conditions out of the ER.

4. Realize Lower Costs

Another essential advantage of telemedicine is lower costs for you. You not only have another chargeable service to your bottom line, but this lower overhead could mean greater overall quality of care. 

5. Benefit from Streamlined Care

EMT’s can take video conferencing in their ambulance, allowing them to send information, including important clinical data or images to a trauma team waiting at the ER. And, this results in streamlined care and substantial savings in treatment costs and time.

Telemedicine doesn’t just appeal to physicians because it makes things simpler (though it definitely can). It is a necessary and unique approach to healthcare, allowing you the freedom to provide care that works best for you and your patients. It also provides patients with more flexibility in managing their health.

While it’s not a new technology anymore, telemedicine continues to be a buzz word across the medical industry and for good reason. With telemedicine, you no longer have to rely on time-consuming and costly in-person visits, you can now rely on video visits, like Steth IO Health, and other means of examining, treating and managing your patients with medical problems. Contact us to learn more.