From data security to accessibility to connection quality, today’s healthcare CIOs face barriers as they aim to meet consumer demand for telehealth services.
Telemedicine has risen in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, with physicians and patients using remote health services much more frequently since 2020. And even as the COVID crisis begins to recede, it would appear that telehealth is here to stay.
Telehealth makes it easier for patients to access specialty and primary care and is especially helpful for people who have difficulty getting to an in-person appointment — because they live in a remote location, lack transportation, are pressed for time, or have health issues that keep them home bound.
But although telehealth may prove to be convenient for patients, lower insurance reimbursement rates combined with IT challenges can prove to be barriers for providers to widespread post-pandemic adoption of this promising technology.
“Telehealth is here to stay – it’s not whether telehealth will be offered, but how best to offer telehealth services as we move toward what we’re terming digitally enabled care—which is not just hybrid care, but more so fully integrated in-person and virtual care based on clinical appropriateness.” – Meg Barron, AMA Vice President of digital health innovations
Medical providers collect and store massive amounts of sensitive information, making information security a chief concern when offering telehealth services. With a reported increase in phishing, malware and ransomware scams targeting health care IT networks during the pandemic, it’s critical to close cybersecurity gaps that could occur as a result of an increase in telemedicine software use.
Regulation and Compliance
Introducing new technology into the healthcare environment can become cumbersome due to regulatory and compliance standards that organizations are required to follow.
Additionally, it can expose a health system to additional risk if regulations are unintentionally violated. These problems are exacerbated by the ongoing labor challenges that many hospitals are facing, particularly for specialty talent like cybersecurity professionals.
Although the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services relaxed HIPAA telehealth compliance enforcement during the COVID-19 pandemic, these changes were only intended to apply during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency and may be temporary. HIPAA violations can result in financial penalties and even criminal charges — a major concern for health care organizations that are considering implementing or expanding telemedicine services.
Establishing a telemedicine program that includes quality equipment and adheres to security protocols, regulations and compliance standards can be costly. More patients and providers are now using telemedicine than before the pandemic, and the technology is here to stay. However, health care organizations may be wary about investing large sums to implement or expand a telehealth program — particularly when the technology isn’t widely used among older adults, in rural areas, or by a subset of health care providers.
Privacy and Confidentiality
Healthcare organizations need to examine how telemedicine is being used to ensure that team members do not compromise patient privacy and confidentiality. For example, if a physician is using a telemedicine-equipped device to conduct remote patient telehealth visits, the physician needs to be mindful not to inadvertently share sensitive patient information with non- authorized individuals.
Anyone who has been on a video conference with lagging audio and freezing images knows that no telehealth platform will be useful if the patient or the provider doesn’t have a stable internet connection with appropriate bandwidth. Patients who have unreliable internet or cell phone data service — as well as providers in office settings where many people are trying to access the internet simultaneously — will not be able to successfully conduct a telehealth visit, which causes frustration and reluctance to adopt the technology.
Healthcare organizations have a responsibility to make sure telemedicine technology used by providers and patients includes accessibility features for people with hearing, speech, or vision impairments. IT professionals need to carefully select telemedicine hardware and software that includes accessibility features and has an easy-to-use design for providers and patients.
Seamless integration between telemedicine technology and a health system’s electronic health records is essential to ensure that providers can easily adopt the technology into their practice and patients can receive complete access to their health information. Sharing telehealth notes, diagnoses, and other information with multiple providers is also necessary to ensure that patients receive comprehensive care. Solid IT governance that encourages the application of standards across the hospital enterprise will decrease the burden of having to integrate multiple telemedicine systems.
How We Can Help
If your healthcare organization is considering implementing or expanding your telemedicine program, our team can help you select the software and hardware that meets your budget and the needs of your providers and patients — while minimizing risk, protecting patient data, and ensuring regulatory compliance. To talk with us about your organization’s needs, contact us.