Telehealth use continued to increase overall in 2021, but it has stabilized from the sharper growth curve seen in 2020, according to results from the CHIME Digital Health Most Wired survey.

This year, 26% of healthcare organizations including acute care, ambulatory care and long-term or post-acute care facilities reported a quarter or more of their patients had used telehealth. That’s lower than 2020, where 32% said that many patients had used telehealth services, but significantly higher than the 7% recorded in 2019.

The CHIME survey found 80% of acute and ambulatory care organizations reported greater than 10% of their patients had used telemedicine services in the past year, while 68% of long-term care facilities reported telehealth use at that level.

Meanwhile, 61% of healthcare organizations surveyed said they didn’t have telehealth problems caused by a lack of access to broadband internet, but 39% have seen a patient’s broadband limitations prevent access to telehealth.

Outside of telemedicine, nearly 87% of acute and ambulatory care facilities have now adopted an enterprise-wide patient flow system, with 96% saying that they have bed-tracking and patient-flow tools in the emergency department and 89% reporting that they have this technology in the ICU.

The survey found 83% of organizations have adopted tools to estimate patients’ out-of-pocket expenses, compared with only 64% in 2020. CHIME attributed the increase to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ new rule on hospital price transparency, though several analyses suggest many hospitals were not fully complying with the regulation.

On the cybersecurity front, around 80% of acute and ambulatory care organizations and 82% of long-term care facilities said their ability to respond to or plan for cyberattacks wasn’t hindered by the pandemic. 

But only 32% of organizations had what CHIME considers a “comprehensive security program,” including new standards like quarterly security progress and deficiencies reports, semi-annual security updates with the board and having an executive leader dedicated to cybersecurity.

WHY IT MATTERS

Though telehealth, virtual care and other digital health offerings were available before COVID-19, the pandemic pushed healthcare providers and patients to adopt these tools more rapidly.

“The next year will see a shift from digital point solutions like outpatient telehealth visits being offered by necessity in the pandemic context to outright digital transformation being pursued to leverage those point solutions as part of a broader effort to achieve strategic goals and define what the future healthcare landscape looks like. Undoubtedly, telehealth will be a big part of that outlook,” Bret Anderson, principal at the Chartis Group, told HealthcareITNews in September.

Meanwhile, cybersecurity continues to be a concern for healthcare organizations. In June, Moody’s Investors Service warned that the risk of cyberattack is high in healthcare, and the increased reliance on digital health technology has made it more susceptible. The dangers are also heightened in the healthcare sector. As one study found, ransomware attacks during COVID-19 disrupted access to care and put patient safety at risk. 

ON THE RECORD

“A monumental shift is occurring across the industry as more and more organizations adopt digital health strategies that transform health and care,” CHIME president and CEO Russell P. Branzell said in a statement.

“The survey covers multiple categories to assess how effectively healthcare organizations are advancing on their digital health journeys. This year, we see not only individual gains in categories, but also cumulative gains from the past two years that reflect a digital revolution long in the making. Top performers are setting an example that is inspiring widespread change at an unprecedented pace.”



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