Virtual Health is Saving Lives During Coronavirus

How Virtual Health Services are Saving Lives During the Coronavirus Crisis

With the outbreak of COVID-19 healthcare workers and providers have had to come up with better ways to diagnose and treat patients. The number of patients who need to be seen for health issues both related to and peripheral to the coronavirus has put a strain on our hospitals.  It is in this environment that Telemedicine has found its spotlight. Telemedicine or Virtual Health Care is the practice of performing virtual appointments and check-ups for patients. Especially now, this keeps both patients and healthcare workers safe while continuing to provide care for those in need. This is only the beginning of how virtual health is saving lives during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Virtual healthcare has slowly been taking hold as more and more of the norm in recent years. The cost savings alone make virtual care the right choice for many doctors, hospitals, and patients.  $7 billion of physicians’ time can be saved by switching in-person visits to virtual appointments.

These days, in quarantine, many people need the ability to have their doctor’s appointments at home. Even during the best of times, for many, the convenience is key to successful follow up appointments and check-ins.  Telemedicine allows for a safe environment to ask questions, get simple diagnoses and to get prescriptions from your doctor while remaining at home.  

Doctors around the country have implemented telemedicine and online appointments to help keep all patients safe from COVID-19. Patients with a smartphone or computer can visit a provider in a secure network. Dr. Chris Davis, Medical Director for UCHealth’s Virtual Urgent Care says, “COVID-19 is quite infectious, so if you can stay home and get medical advice, that gives you two advantages. First, if you’re sick, you’re not going to be bringing your illness into a doctor’s office or a hospital. Second, you won’t be exposed to other patients.”

These changes to what we have thought of as normal healthcare have given people affordable, manageable options to care for themselves and others throughout this uncertain time. As we work to navigate COVID-19, the best thing we can do is keep ourselves and others safe from harm by ensuring we do everything we can to stop the spread.

Virtual Care and the Telemedicine Revolution

During this time of uncertainty, there has been an increase in consumer demand for virtual healthcare services, which has put added pressure on providers and payers to expand delivery options for on-demand health services.

A survey from Accenture, which included 1,501 consumers who answered questions online, found that most people are willing to utilize virtual healthcare services. For the 20% of respondents who had received care virtually, the reasons they cited most often for seeking virtual care are:

  • Greater convenience than traditional in-person healthcare services (37%)
  • Familiarity using technology to manage their health (34%)
  • Curiosity to try virtual health (34%)

Consumers said they would be more likely to “try virtual” if encouraged by a physician or familiar healthcare provider.
According to the research, today’s consumers are demanding a combination of in-person and virtual health services. More than 75% of those surveyed said they would be interested in receiving healthcare virtually some or most of the time.

What is Virtual Health?

Virtual health includes health care innovations like virtual appointment kiosks and portals, remote consultations, and electronic personal health records. These components work together to allow for easier access to care, such as virtual wellness coaching, remote monitoring, video visits, and online health chats, among several other benefits that we will examine more closely below.
Virtual health combines clinical care and professional collaboration through telemedicine, telehealth, and collaboration at-a-distance to connect clinicians, patients, care teams, and health professionals to provide health services, support patient self-management, and coordinate care across the care continuum.
Specific to physician-patient encounters, virtual health enables live and asynchronous clinical interactions, clinical practice, and patient management supported by a wide range of communication, collaboration, and cognitive computing technologies along with digital devices and data.

Benefits of Virtual Health and Telemedicine

As you can see, there are many benefits of offering Virtual Health. For patients and medical practices, the use of telemedicine technology allows patients to receive follow up care and chronic illness management from their own home on the devices they already own and use. This follow-up care is especially crucial for those who are homebound or have difficulty arranging travel.
For healthier patients, it reduces travel time and costs and requires less time away from work. As an added benefit, patients do not have exposure to other potentially contagious patients. In short, telemedicine removes many of the barriers preventing people from actively managing their health.

Here are the main benefits for most patients:

Improved Access – Not only does telemedicine improve access to patients, but it also allows physicians and health facilities to expand their reach beyond their own offices. Telemedicine has a unique capacity to increase service to millions of new patients.

Cost Efficiencies – Telemedicine has been shown to reduce the cost of healthcare and increase efficiency through better management of chronic diseases, shared health professional staffing, reduced travel times, and fewer or shorter hospital stays.

Improved Quality – Studies have consistently shown that the quality of healthcare services delivered via telemedicine are as good those given in traditional in-person consultations.

Virtual Health Care technology is excellent for providers as well. It can help extend clinical services to reach more patients efficiently and profitably. It helps improve health outcomes by increasing patient compliance with follow up and chronic illness management. Virtual Health Care strengthens patient relationships without putting additional strain on the medical staff.
There are significant benefits to medical practice, as well. By utilizing virtual health, your practice can expand access to care. It improves clinical workflows by helping your staff capture each patient’s reason for the call or visit quickly, prioritize care delivery, suggest the best treatment guidelines, and identify additional information resources. Virtual health care can also support communication along the care continuum.

What does this mean for my practice?

Technology is providing new methods to assist your clients by responding to the need for better communication. It’s also creating a competitive landscape the medical field has never seen before. Embracing this new trend will enable you to maintain your patients for years to come.

Contact SBMA for more information on employee benefits packages that include virtual health services!

What Exactly is Telemedicine?

Healthcare providers have been offering remote services for years, which have allowed patients to receive healthcare from the comfort of their own homes. Before the recent advancements in technology, these remote services were done over landline phones. Now patients can see their doctors at their office using various online platforms, including Zoom and Skype. So what exactly does telemedicine entail? 

Using telemedicine, you can discuss symptoms, medical issues, receive a diagnosis, learn treatment options, and get prescriptions. There are a few common types of telemedicine which include:

  • Interactive Medicine: This involved a physician and patient communicating in real-time. 
  • Remote Patient Monitoring: This gives caregivers the ability to monitor specific patients who have medical equipment that collects information like blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and more.
  • Store and Forward: This type of telemedicine allows providers to share their patient’s information with other healthcare specialists and professionals.

While they sound the same, there are a few critical differences between telemedicine and telehealth. Telemedicine, as stated by the World Health Organization, is “healing from a distance.” You receive treatment without an appointment or visiting the office. Telehealth uses electronic information to support long-distance clinical healthcare, education, and administrative activities. It improves patient care and physician education rather than providing a service. It involves scheduling appointments, medical education continuation, and training for physicians.

When should you use telemedicine? Telemedicine is not for emergencies. Anything that requires urgent, primary care, you should go to a doctor in-person. However, telemedicine is for straight-forward questions and issues, and any follow-up consults. It also can be helpful with psychotherapy and teledermatology. Some examples of straight-forward issues include cold and flu symptoms, insect bites, diarrhea, pink eye, and sore throats.

Telemedicine has advanced our current health care options by offering several new benefits. It is making healthcare accessible for more patients, whether they live in a remote location, have a packed schedule, or any other number of other reasons. 

Telemedicine is also much more financially accessible. A recent study found that the average telemedicine visit is around $79, whereas an average doctor’s appointment is $149, and a trip to the emergency room costs, on average, $1,734. As telemedicine continues to grow, health insurance providers are offerings coverage for telemedicine visits. Some states even require that health insurance plans reimburse patients for telemedicine visits. 

Telemedicine offers a more accessible opportunity for healthcare and changing the way we visit the doctor. At SBMA we offer the most competitive limited benefit plans in the industry, including virtual health options! Check out our services for more information!

Coronavirus and the Rise of Telemedicine

Coronavirus has flipped our lives upside down in more ways than one. One of the biggest changes is the expectation that nearly everyone stays at home as much as possible. Social distancing measures are currently being enforced in order to slow the spread of the virus, which has caused a major spike in the use of telemedicine resources.

Despite the emphasized concern for those infected by COVID-19, people with healthcare concerns and issues still need to regularly see their doctor, as well. This is where telemedicine can come into play — people who do not need to receive treatment in a hospital or doctor’s office are able to talk to their doctor and get what they need virtually from the safety of their homes.

Doctors’ needs for additional resources to treat and see their patients have put the spotlight on telemedicine in a big way. Doctors are now able to use secure, virtual consultations to keep both their patients and themselves safe. Coronavirus has made it imperative that health care workers are able to keep in touch with their patients in a way that keeps both of them safe from any unnecessary contact with others. 

Government leaders, public health authorities, insurers, and hospital systems have all been working diligently to give people as many health care services as possible virtually. This will likely become one of the new normals we will see after the pandemic is over. 

Telemedicine and virtual healthcare have been around for years, but the coronavirus is forcing people to utilize this great tool and is driving employers and insurance agencies to include this technology in their plans.

As a society, our acceptance of technology as an integral part of our everyday lives has made it possible for telemedicine to eventually replace in-person preventative medical visits completely. As our dependency on technology continues to grow, telemedicine will gain more and more traction with the vast majority of patients. 

In order to keep everyone safe, we need to continue implementing social distancing measures. For more information on virtual health services and how you can start using it, visit us!

The Telehealth Revolution and Coronavirus

The demand for telehealth services has skyrocketed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Still, an increase in consumer demand over the past several years can guarantee that telehealth options are here to stay. 

Public health officials are encouraging consumers to utilize contact-less telehealth services to stay safe and slow the spread of COVID-19. Not only does this form of healthcare keep the user safe from germs, but it also can help give doctors quick access to patients who need care urgently, but may be located in other parts of the country. While there is a lot to understand when it comes to telehealth services, here are the things we consider to be the most important:

How are people responding to telehealth services?

According to a survey from Accenture, 74% of those surveyed were happy with their telehealth experience. About 75% of people said they would use telehealth services to access healthcare after hours. Two-thirds said they would use this service for follow-up appointments rather than seeing a healthcare professional in person. 

So, how does telehealth work?

Email, video conferencing, and video chat services are used to receive care from the comfort of your own home. The healthcare professionals responding to consumers either respond in real-time or giving consumers a place to find their answer.

The costs associated with telehealth services are dependant on the insurance plan coverage. Programs like Medicare cover telehealth services. Consumers can also pay out-of-pocket for their telehealth services. These services can cost anywhere from $50 to $80, or a potential annual membership fee.

As far as security goes, patient privacy is protected if the providers are operating in good faith. But if these services use avenues, like Zoom or Skype, the security may be a little riskier. At SBMA, we offer 24/7 access to doctors with no cost to you, as well as behavioral health services with a $50 copay. 

Telehealth services also give doctors the ability to send in a prescription to a pharmacy. Our telehealth services cover generic physical and behavioral prescriptions with a $10 or $25 copay.

While telehealth services cannot diagnose or treat coronavirus, they can offer quarantine and self-care tips to implement while you are home. If you are unsure whether or not to go to the hospital, you can use telehealth services to help decide whether or not you need to. 

For more information on telehealth services and how you can offer them or receive them, contact us!

OCR Relaxed HIPAA Enforcement Increases Telehealth

With the recent pandemic, many things have changed in regard to healthcare services. One major way healthcare has changed over the last few months is through the expansion of telehealth services. The Office of Civil Rights has recently relaxed the constraints surrounding which video conferencing applications are HIPAA compliant provided that these services are provided in good faith. As OCR relaxed HIPAA enforcement, there have been increases in telehealth services. The article below details how these relaxed regulations have changed the telemedicine world, and why we can expect it to stick post-COVID:

OCR’s Relaxed Enforcement Of HIPAA During COVID-19 Paves The Way For Increase In Telehealth Services

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the country, doctors, dentists, therapists, and other healthcare providers have turned to telehealth use with their patients by way of videoconferencing applications such as Zoom, Skype and WebEx. The Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Health and Human Services (“OCR”) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”

There are a number of privacy concerns healthcare providers should consider when utilizing telehealth technology. Generally, healthcare providers providing telehealth services are subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). However, not every videoconferencing application is HIPAA-compliant. HIPAA requires that a healthcare provider who utilizes a vendor to transmit or maintain protected health information, or who utilizes a vendor who has routine access to protected health information (PHI), must have a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with each vendor.

In light of COVID-19, the OCR recently relaxed its enforcement of HIPAA’s privacy and security rules and issued a notification stating that it will practice “enforcement discretion” regarding HIPAA’s privacy and security rules. The OCR will not impose penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA for healthcare providers’ “good faith provision of telehealth using such non-public facing audio or video communication products during the COVID-19 nationwide public health emergency”, whether the telehealth services are related to a COVID-19 diagnosis and treatment or not, including for example, “a sprained ankle, dental consultation or psychological evaluation, or other conditions.”

The OCR advises healthcare providers to use public facing videoconferencing applications including Apple FaceTime, Facebook Messenger video chat, Google Hangouts video, Zoom, or Skype, to provide telehealth without the risk that the OCR will issue penalties for non-compliance with HIPAA. However, the OCR also specifically disallows the use of certain other public facing video apps such as TikTok, Facebook live, and Twitch to provide telehealth services.

Notwithstanding the OCR’s practice of enforcement discretion, healthcare providers should continue to engage in best practices to safeguard patient data. For example:

1. Consent. Before using video conferencing for medical consultations, request permission from the patient to do so and document their approval in their medical record.

2. BAA. Despite the fact that the OCR will not impose penalties against covered health care providers for the lack of a BAA, the OCR encourages healthcare providers to enter into a BAA with any vendor that provides videoconferencing services, and in its notification provides a list of vendors which represent that they are HIPAA-compliant video conferencing applications that will enter into a HIPAA BAA, including:

  • Skype for Business / Microsoft Teams
  • Updox
  • VSee
  • Zoom for Healthcare
  • Google G Suite Hangouts Meet
  • Cisco Webex Meetings / Webex Teams
  • Amazon Chime
  • GoToMeeting
  • Spruce Health Care Messenger

3. Encryption. Healthcare providers should enable all available encryption and privacy modes when using the videoconferencing technology.

4. Password Protection. Healthcare providers should create a unique meeting ID and a strong password to access a virtual consultation.

5. Monitor. Healthcare providers should monitor all communications containing PHI. Additionally, healthcare providers should check that both employees and patients are accessing via a secure network connection prior to consultations.

According to analysts at Forrester Research, the adoption of telehealth services has increased dramatically, with virtual healthcare interactions projected to exceed 1 billion by year’s end. While the OCR’s relaxed enforcement of HIPAA during COVID-19 likely will end when the pandemic is brought under control, it appears telehealth services may become the “new normal” for healthcare providers.

Telehealth is Here to Stay!

Telehealth has expanded leaps and bounds in the past few months. With the outbreak of Coronavirus, and the high infection risk, people have turned to telehealth services to supplement non-emergent doctor appointments. By the end of the year, the use of virtual health services could hit 1 billion users. In March, the number of telehealth services increased by 50% compared to last year. As we see the number of telehealth visits continue to increase, it is safe to assume that this may be the new normal.

Coronavirus has caused the telehealth industry to fast-track the wide implementation of the usage. Before COVID-19, there were multiple regulatory changes that may have taken years to implement but were fast-tracked to begin usage in a few weeks. 

These changes have reduced or eliminated barriers to usage, to give both providers and patients easier and more convenient access to telehealth services. Before the pandemic, Medicare regulated the availability of telehealth services to only those who resided in rural areas, now it is available to all locations. There were also regulations surrounding those that could receive, previously it could only be patients who had been in the office within the last three years. Now, physicians can treat any new or current patients. 

One large regulation that has been lifted is the restrictions the HIPAA put on the privacy for telehealth platforms. The Office of Civil Rights stated that during the pandemic, the discretion against providers who use Facetime, Zoom, or Skype, will not be enforced. But providers must ensure that they are using good faith when utilizing these tools. 

Providing easier access to telehealth services, along with the stay-at-home orders that were mandated, the adoption of this technology has skyrocketed. It has helped those at home to not only screen for COVID-19 symptoms, but also have routine checkups and follow-ups. 

Some healthcare industries that have seen the most success with telehealth is dermatology and behavioral health. Both industries do not need to meet in person in order to deliver a diagnosis. Dermatologists have used this to treat acne, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis. Behavioral health professionals have seen a rise in appointments, especially with the current pandemic. People’s mental health has been impacted largely by Coronavirus, so implementing telehealth services for this industry can help people when they need it most.

Previously, physicians using telehealth services have seen limited resources and financial compensation. This reality made physicians less likely to utilize these services. Due to the public health emergency, Medicare has waived all restrictions placed on telehealth reimbursements and has expanded coverage to a wider variety of the population. Some payers, like Medicaid, have reimbursed virtual doctor’s visits at the same rate they do for in-office appointments. 

Over the last few months, we have seen telehealth grow massively and it has played an important role in managing the Coronavirus pandemic. As we look to the future, understanding the value of telehealth will be vital to its survival. As physicians and patients alike adopt the new technology, it will begin to become the new normal. With the widespread implementation of virtual visits, it is likely people will be more in tune with their health due to the convenience. 

At SBMA, we offer the most competitive medical benefits plans in the industry. We offer 24/7 access to doctors, with no cost to you! Along with the option for behavioral health services with a $50 co-pay. To learn more about our virtual health options, contact us!