On March 15, Law on Consolidated Appropriations was signed into law extending Medicare’s flexibility to reimburse telehealth for 151 days after the end of the public health emergency (PHE) Covid-19. As such, the telehealth industry is ripe for greater investment from technology providers, creating the conditions for the development of better telehealth solutions and giving healthcare organizations a greater competitive advantage in a highly saturated market.
However, with Covid still at the forefront of healthcare leaders’ minds, some may not be prioritizing health technology trends — let alone make predictions about what 2023 holds for telehealth innovation. That’s why the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services also offers 1135 rejections by October 2022. There is another direction which adds 150 days after the PHE deadline, which could push things back to spring next year.
Meanwhile, telehealth is seeing growth, and healthcare leaders and organizations need to start planning now.
The evolution of telehealth
The telehealth industry is rapidly becoming a quarter trillion dollar sector. Some of the revenue you may have seen coming from an urgent care facility is now going toward home health care. This is especially true in specialty facilities, such as skilled nursing facilities, which may have different state licensing or reimbursement rules.
Ultimately, revenue will dictate innovation and the resources allocated to it. When the pandemic began, health leaders had to find better ways to treat people because of hospital overcrowding and bed shortages. They now charge for certain services in the home where they were previously outsourced to a third party provider. This means increased revenue for hospitals and better outcomes for patients.
The telehealth industry will continue to drive innovation that helps bring telehealth into the continuum of care more sustainably and creatively. You’ll see device integration and be able to perform even more complex tests, like dialysis, at home. And that’s just the beginning. Here are three major changes you’ll soon see from telehealth innovations.
- Hospital at home
The global Covid crisis has made it clear that we need a better bridge between our hospitals and homes. It created a whole new setting that could be treated differently, which caused Emergency Hospital Care at Home Program. Counting makes it important for leaders to create a competitive advantage.
For health systems, it all comes down to counting. If you lose the count, you lose your membership and subsequently your revenue. Providers will find a variety of ways to create new revenue streams to control their census and provide better patient care.
Human intelligence is one of our greatest resources, and by sending someone into the home, the telehealth industry enables better care. Of course, this requires the ability to have high-level meetings in the home. For many clinicians, this means bringing ultrasounds, EKGs and the like into people’s homes.
- Telehealth ICUs
The telehealth industry spans several services and departments, much like a conventional hospital: preventive and routine care, specialty care, and then intensive care and emergency department services. They require highly trained doctors to attend to patients who may be terminally ill or injured.
Intensive care units are often in high demand. Reports to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that on average, 70% of intensive care beds are busy at all times. These patients require extremely high levels of care, usually from intensivists who specialize in the critically ill. However, many facilities lack these doctors. One study found almost half of emergency facilities there were no intensivists on staff. This can unfortunately mean that the patient cannot receive the quality care they desperately need.
Enter telehealth. Investing in telehealth ICUs enables better care for the sickest of the sick, regardless of their location, because intensivists can be brought to the patient through telemedicine technology. Distance is no longer a barrier and care can be accessed more quickly.
The United States is the world leader in telehealth intensive care units with a 20% market penetration. While impressive, this still leaves a large 80% market that will be very competitive. It won’t be long until the sickest of the sick get better telehealth treatment, leading to higher telehealth reimbursement revenue.
- Corporate integration
Finally, virtual continuity of care is vital in telemedicine. There are many companies that specialize in software for specific areas, such as emergency care or schools. This leaves the healthcare facility running on seven different platforms, and this makes it difficult to manage and scale.
Health system leaders cannot rely on separate layers tied together with virtual tape. This disrupts continuity of care and leads to workflow disruption. Whether you see a patient in the ICU or at home, it should be within the same workflow to simplify the process and make it scalable.
Doctors and nurses don’t need more technology – they are care providers, not technologists. Every time you add a new layer, platform, workflow, or technology, they have to learn how to use it. And with all that learning, it’s clear that in health technology, less is better. Ultimately, the seamless integration of technology and workflows may be the best innovation in telehealth in the next decade.
Telehealth has the potential to solve many problems facing the healthcare industry. The ability to put an experienced healthcare professional in the home leads to better care and the health of society as a whole. It will take work, but there is no doubt that it is work worth doing. In fact, it’s a job that can save lives.
Photo: Eva Almqvist, Getty Images