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What's important to know about its growth, and what we need to address
Some aspects of telehealth have been around for a while, but it is only during the last year or so that it has really taken hold of the popular consciousness. The COVID-19 pandemic has seen remote appointment adoption rise to meet the need for patients and professionals to maintain safe distances. Indeed, the convenience of this method means that we are likely to see telehealth continue to grow beyond the pandemic.
It is, after all, an approach that is closely aligned with the way we all live our lives today. Technology is involved with almost every aspect of what we do, and the medical industry is no different — between electronic medical records to the use of the internet of things (IoT) for patient monitoring, there is an almost constant sense of technological change. As always, to make sure telehealth has a positive impact, we need to understand it a little better.
Let’s take a closer look at the expansion of telehealth from a professional perspective. What is important to know about its growth, and what do we need to address?
Adopting privacy measures
The healthcare industry already has a great deal of responsibility in respect of patient privacy. As facilities embrace connected technology as a greater part of practices, you’ll find this will continue to be front-and-center of concerns. Consultancy videos, medical records, and patient data will be subject to wireless transfer, and therefore potentially vulnerable to breaches.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) has already played a role in addressing privacy when it comes to telehealth. The standards outlined in this legislation provide a good basic guideline for when facilities are choosing what telehealth systems and patient portals to adopt, and whether the encryption meets compliance requirements. It also shows just how widely across medical organizations protocols need to be applied. Employers must provide training to medical and administrative staff on secure behavior, information technology (IT) departments need to adopt cybersecurity appropriate to the risks in this system, staff working from home need access to tools such as virtual private networks (VPNs).
However, the truth is the technology and processes being utilized in telehealth are only likely to develop as we move forward. Indeed, technology companies are becoming more intimately involved in medical fields, even considering opening their own facilities. As such, the imperative is to keep assessing risks. This is because there may well be times that the standards of HIPAA haven’t quite caught up with the methods that are adopted or the new cybersecurity risks being presented. To keep patient data safe and secure, facilities can’t necessarily wait for new legislation or regulations, they’ll need to go above and beyond, keeping staff ahead of the curve with training, engaging security experts that are more abreast of the current risks.
Building best practices
We need to consider how to utilize telehealth technology in ways that most benefit both the patient and the attending staff member. Aside from the need to safeguard privacy, one of the dangers of the telehealth expansion is we might run before we can walk. Without really understanding exactly what the process is, and how it should be utilized, we run the risk of making too many costly mistakes at the expense of patient care.
This is why it’s important to start building best practices now, at the beginning of telehealth’s expansion. The method is becoming increasingly popular with patients, so all staff needs to take time to first understand how the practice works — the format for virtual appointments, how to correctly use secure patient portals, and making sure patient monitoring tools are used accurately. Even knowing what is beneficial about telehealth, that beyond convenience there are links to patient satisfaction and greater access to healthcare, can help shape best practices. The need for clear communication, for instance, can direct facilities in formalizing checks of technology and stable connections before calls.
However, perhaps the most important best practice to focus on as telehealth expands is maintaining relationships. The trust medical professionals and patients share will always be one of the most valuable assets in care. As such, there needs to be a focus on removing the digital barrier during appointments and helping patients to feel comfortable and supported. Body language plays a huge part during appointments, and we need to develop protocols to replicate or substitute this, and how to achieve eye contact rather than emphasize the distance that video calls can so often create.
Keeping patients educated
Indeed, there will likely be industrial alterations that need to be made as part of the telehealth expansion. However, one of the most important areas of impact will be the patients themselves. Nobody can take full advantage of the new technology if there isn’t sufficient trust, reassurance, and guidance provided. We see this all the time with new procedures or medications patients are unfamiliar with. Therefore, we must commit to patient education. Educate your patients on making the most of their virtual appointments, such as ensuring they have all their prescriptions with them during their appointments and that they are on time, if not a little early. Having a list of questions is also ideal.
With each new change in telehealth, the healthcare industry needs to pass this information on to patients. There must be a commitment to utmost clarity here. Explain why shifts are being made, talk in real terms about how it will affect them, and — importantly — what the benefits are. As technology is so rapidly changing, facilities will need to put in place protocols for this communication so it can be delivered reliably, ensuring no one is left out of the loop.
This will also need to extend to helping patients understand what telehealth can and can’t be used for. Part of the issue with adoption now is patients don’t always fully understand the range of services they can engage with, and whether they’ll be covered for it — especially as many providers have stated intentions to roll back coverage following high adoption during COVID-19. This means providers, insurers, and even public health departments will need to work more closely together in establishing usage, and making sure patients are clear on how and when to use telehealth.
Telehealth is becoming an important part of our healthcare landscape. However, as its use expands, the industry needs to apply attention to making sure privacy measures go beyond limited HIPAA guidelines and build best practices that benefit both providers and patients. With the rapid development of practices and technology, a dedication to education and communication will help everyone to take the best advantage of them.
(Image source: pexels.com)
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Joined Vator onBeau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he's learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication.