In a recent blog article, we took a close look at the future of telehealth in a post-COVID-19 world. While many would agree that telehealth is now here to stay and will continue to be an option expected by patients long after the pandemic has ended, the type of telehealth solutions providers choose to employ can have a serious impact on how patients respond. In the initial rush to provide patients with telehealth options, some providers implemented solutions that were riddled with security flaws, not to mention HIPAA noncompliant and unintegrated with their EHR and Practice Management.
With a predicted “telemedicine boom“ on the near horizon and a proposed $200 million in new telehealth expansion funding from the FCC, providers should not be looking for quick fix “band-aid” telehealth options with noncompliant video-chat solutions. Now is the time when practices should be looking diligently for permanent telemedicine solutions that will not only allow them to care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic but that will equip them to continue offering virtual care to patients for years to come in a secure, convenient, HIPAA-compliant, integrated environment.
When it comes to videoconferencing and chat functions, the vast majority of the U.S. workforce has had to learn some very fast lessons… and some have had to learn those lessons the hard way because they chose solutions with poor or unclear security protocols. Scarily enough, the most popular videoconferencing solution—Zoom—has been discovered to have a plethora of security flaws in recent months.
Early on in the COVID-19 lockdown, many employees using Zoom were horrified to learn that any private messages they sent to the host of the meeting would be included in the meeting’s transcript which, in some cases, was then shared with all other attendees of that meeting. Had they known of this in advance, they would have had a chance to censor themselves a bit more prudently in the chat. Then came the “Zoom bombings,” in which trolls would crash Zoom meetings using a tool called zWarDial. Once inside the meeting, these trolls would wreak havoc by posting offensive videos or making loud, hateful comments.
While Zoom has gotten much of the attention, including lawsuits as a result, when it comes to security problems, they most definitely are not the only ones with issues. Many popular video-chat platforms, especially those linked with social media, are simply not secure enough for use in telehealth. This includes many commonly used platforms such as Skype, Instagram and Snapchat.
Back in March 2020, the federal government announced it would be relaxing HIPAA obligations for providers in response to COVID-19. At that time, the idea was to make it possible for all healthcare providers to offer virtual care options without being concerned that they would be hit with fines for not using HIPAA-compliant platforms. This meant doctors were suddenly free to conduct patient visits on almost any videoconferencing platform, including Skype, Zoom and even Facebook Messenger. While this was an effective stopgap measure that gave doctors a temporary way to deliver virtual care, it was by no means intended to be a permanent solution.
As already stated, these sorts of video-chat platforms are highly unsecure. Even more importantly, they are nowhere close to being HIPAA-compliant. While these relaxed HIPAA restrictions will allow for their use over the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency, such platforms are temporary fixes at best and could turn out to cause privacy concerns among patients that could lead to legal liabilities later on down the line. Eventually, these exceptions will expire and providers will be expected to once again adhere to HIPAA Telemedicine regulations.
In order to make sure they are ready to provide telehealth to patients over the long term, practices need to ensure they have implemented a secure and HIPAA-compliant solution.
Convenience & Integration
While it is crucial to implement a telehealth solution that is both secure and HIPAA-compliant, it should also be convenient to patients as well as integrated with your EHR and practice management solution. A 2019 America Well survey found that convenience was a primary factor in how receptive patients were to adoption of telehealth. Therefore, even a secure and HIPAA-compliant solution will not be of much use if patients find it inconvenient.
One way to ensure that your telehealth solution is convenient, both for your patients and your staff, is to select a solution that is integrated with your practice management and/or EHR software. With an integrated telehealth solution, providers are able to chart, take notes and engage patients during virtual visits, all from a single platform. This is why integrated telehealth allows providers to experience zero loss in productivity when performing telehealth visits. Since an integrated platform works seamlessly with your scheduler, automatically spawning appointment links and sending them to the patients so they can join the appointment with just a click. Such solutions also make it possible for providers to setup up automatic notifications that will inform office staff as well as patients of updates or changes to their appointments.
Unintegrated telehealth will be a burden to use, especially for providers and practice staff, as this requires users to have separate tabs and/or windows to be open which forces them to manage two interfaces simultaneously while also trying to remain focused on the patient.
Since the start of the pandemic, Nextech has remained committed to ensuring users have the resources, information and technology needed to adapt to the dramatic changes taking place in healthcare. A main component of this process has included the redirection of all development efforts to focus on providing clients with new solutions to facilitate remote EHR accessibility, telehealth, virtual waiting rooms and more. To learn more about how Nextech can help your practice create a long term strategy for telehealth, simply fill out this form and a member of our team will soon be in touch.