On March 15, the Consolidated Appropriations Act was signed into law, extending Medicare telehealth reimbursement flexibility for 151 days following the end of the Covid-19 public health emergency (PHE). As such, the telehealth industry is ripe for greater investment from technology providers, creating the conditions to develop better telemedicine 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 healthcare technology trends — let alone making predictions about what 2023 has in store for telehealth innovations. That’s why the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is also offering 1,135 waivers through October 2022. There’s also another guideline that adds 150 days beyond the PHE deadline, which could push things back to spring of next year.
In the meantime, the growth of telehealth is happening, and healthcare leaders and organizations should start planning now.
The evolution of telehealth
The telehealth industry is quickly becoming a quarter-trillion-dollar sector. Some of the revenue that you might have seen coming from an acute facility is now moving toward healthcare in the home. This is especially true in specialized facilities, like skilled nursing facilities that may have different rules for state licensure or reimbursement.
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 crowding and bed shortages. Now, they’re billing for certain services in the home, where they previously would have been outsourced to a third-party provider. That means an increase in revenue for hospitals and better outcomes for the patients.
The telehealth industry will continue to drive innovation that helps bring telehealth more permanently and creatively into the care continuum. You’ll see device integration and be able to perform even more complicated tests, like dialysis, at home. And that’s just the start. Here are three major shifts you’ll soon see from telehealth innovations.
- Hospital in the home
The global Covid crisis made it clear that we need a better bridge between hospitals and our homes. It created a whole new setting that can be treated in a different way, which sparked the Acute Hospital Care at Home Program. Census makes it important for leaders to create a competitive advantage.
For health systems, everything comes down to census. If you lose census, you lose your membership and, subsequently, revenue. Providers will find different ways to create new revenue streams to control their census and provide better patient care.
Human intelligence is one of our biggest resources, and by sending somebody into the home, the telehealth industry enables better care. Of course, that requires the ability to have high-level encounters in the home. For many clinicians, that means bringing ultrasounds, EKGs, and the like into people’s homes.
- Telehealth ICUs
The telehealth industry encompasses several services and departments, much like a conventional hospital: preventive and routine care, specialized care, and then intensive care units and emergency room services. These require highly skilled doctors to monitor patients who are perhaps terminally ill or injured.
ICUs are often in high demand. Reports to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services show that, on average, 70% of ICU beds are occupied at any given time. These patients require extremely high levels of care, usually from intensivists who specialize in the critically ill. Many facilities, however, lack these doctors. One study found almost half of acute care facilities had no intensivists on staff. This can unfortunately mean a patient cannot receive the quality of care they desperately need.
Enter telehealth. Investing in telehealth ICUs allows better care for the sickest of the sick, regardless of their location, as 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 global leader in telehealth ICUs with a 20% market penetration. While impressive, that still leaves a large 80% market that will be very competitive. It won’t be long until the sickest of the sick have better telehealth treatment, leading to higher telehealth reimbursement revenue.
- Enterprise integration
Finally, the virtual care continuum is vital in telemedicine. There are a lot of companies that specialize in software for specific areas, such as urgent care or schools. This leaves the healthcare facility encountering seven different platforms, and that makes it difficult to manage and scale.
Health system leaders can’t rely on piecemeal layers tied together with virtual duct tape. It ruins the care continuum and makes for an interrupted workflow. 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’re care providers, not technologists. Every time you add another layer, platform, workflow, or technology, they must learn how to use it. And with all that training, it becomes clear that in healthcare technology, less is better. Ultimately, the seamless integration of technologies and workflows may be the best telehealth innovation over the next decade.
Telehealth has the potential to solve many problems faced by the healthcare industry. The ability to put an experienced medical professional inside the home leads to better care and societal health overall. It will take work, but there is no doubt that this is work worth doing. In fact, it’s work that can save lives.
Photo: Eva Almqvist, Getty Images