Guest Column | December 28, 2016

Telehealth Technology Eliminating Barriers, Enhancing Practice Revenue

Telehealth In The ER Seniors

By Tom Toperczer, director of product management for Brother OmniJoin

With patient telehealth access jumping 50 percent since 2013, the industry appears to be moving toward virtual care becoming a common, if not expected, method of healthcare delivery. Another recent indicator is approximately 25 percent of healthcare providers have implemented telehealth programs that not only are financially stable but also are improving efficiency in their organization.

Part of this evolution is economically driven considering patients’ high out-of-pocket costs, not to mention the time wasted associated with a typical in-person clinic visit. Technology, however, and its inherent efficiencies, is also playing a major role in encouraging providers to offer telehealth services to patients.

Modern web and video conferencing technology designed for telehealth is also much less expensive and more intuitive than in years past. Thanks to cloud deployments and widespread high-speed internet access, costs have decreased. At the same time, patient-centered features have been introduced, such as online waiting rooms, which help the provider practice more efficiently while enhancing revenue for the organization.

Patient Costs Driving Telehealth Growth

The out-of-pocket cost drivers for patients are not co-pays, but rather deductible and coinsurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Researchers found that the average deductible for workers with employer-provided health coverage rose from $303 to $1,077 between 2006 and 2015. Meanwhile, the organization also found that from 2004 to 2014, patient cost-sharing rose by 77 percent, from an average of $422 in 2004 to $747 in 2014. With telehealth visits typically costing only $40 to $50 for the patient compared to as much as $176 for an office visit, their interest is understandable.

Apart from the out-of-pocket expenses, the time spent traveling to and from their provider’s office and in the waiting area requires many Americans to take time off work, which is another significant economic factor. A study found the average in-person visit consumes 121 minutes of the patient’s time, including 37 minutes in travel and 84 minutes in the waiting and exam rooms. Authors also calculated that all of this time costs each patient $43 in addition to the medical costs.

Providers Discovering The Benefits And Tools

With patients gravitating toward telehealth, provider organizations have begun implementing solutions to capture this growing market. Thanks to the adoption of secure cloud-based servers, providers do not need complex infrastructures to conduct telehealth appointments using web conferencing technology. Some cloud-based web conferencing platforms allow providers with a web camera to simply open a browser and securely log in to begin delivering care.

Once logged in, advanced web conferencing technology designed for healthcare can offer a waiting room feature. Patients receive a welcome message and notification that the doctor knows they’ve arrived. Likewise, providers can see how long each of their patients are waiting – a metric that is not always known during in-person encounters. This helps the physician practice move efficiently while improving the patient experience during telehealth interactions.

Efficiencies To Stem Provider Shortage

With the waiting room feature, physicians can easily monitor their time and see more patients per day, which is essential as the industry faces an anticipated shortage of 61,700 to 94,700 physicians by the year 2025. Providers are taking advantage of video conferencing to help increase their reach, augment in-office care and improve patient access to care, particularly in remote, under-served areas.

Another efficiency afforded by modern video conferencing technology is the simplicity of operation. Modern cloud-based technology is easily deployable regardless of the size of the provider’s operation. Getting started is also greatly simplified, often requiring just a single configuration at implementation based on the provider’s preferences. Since the platform is cloud-based, the provider is alleviated from server or software maintenance and upgrades, further saving time and costs.

Apart from the efficiencies, preferred web conferencing technology offers high-definition video and audio to more closely simulate an in-person clinical experience. Higher quality video and audio performance can help the patient feel more at-ease, but also support the physician’s observational and listening skills to maximize communication efficacy.

Reimbursement Catching Up

While efficiency is crucial, an obstacle for provider adoption of telehealth over the years has been a lack of reimbursement. Recently, however, that trend may be shifting. Nearly 60 percent of the nation’s largest employers offer telehealth coverage, up from 30 percent the previous year. State laws are also catching up with patient demand for telehealth. For example, 49 states and District of Columbia now reimburse for video visits in Medicaid fee-for-service programs. In 32 states and the District of Columbia, there are parity laws that cover private insurers and reimbursement for telehealth services.

As more employers and payers realize how many more of their employees and members can access high-quality care at a lower cost through telehealth, providers can begin enjoying the growth and efficiency benefits of adding telehealth services to their practices.

About The Author
Tom Toperczer is director of product management for Brother. With more than 20 years of experience in the video conferencing industry, Toperczer supports the company’s OmniJoin division that develops video web conferencing solutions with a growing healthcare segment.