Telehealth and the Five Predictions of the Future of Healthcare

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An interview with Tony Santangelo, Updox and Eric Mongeau, Aeroflow

In February 2020, telehealth wasn’t exactly what you’d call a buzzword. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the HME and Respiratory industries adapt to a new way of doing business. Many parts of the country had shelter-in-place orders and many of our businesses shifted staff from the office to home environments, when possible. Understandably so, patients were hesitant to visit healthcare providers during the onset of the pandemic – if those healthcare providers were open at all. As businesses adapted, healthcare providers began to implement telehealth to provide patient care. Since HME is part of the health care continuum, patients will begin to expect that HME will offer patient care in a similar way as their physician, through telehealth.

VGM and EW members are beginning to embrace telehealth for deliveries, troubleshooting, and customer service. Recently, Tony Santangelo, Regional Sales Manager for Updox, hosted a webinar on their telehealth platform and interviewed Eric Mongeau, National Sales Director for Aeroflow on the five predictions of the future of healthcare.

Prediction #1: Telehealth and video chat are here to stay

The use of telemedicine and remote care services are critical to the safe management of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also ensuring uninterrupted care for 100 million Americans with chronic conditions. - Patrice A. Harris, MD, MA, President of the American Medical Association

In mid-March to early April depending on where you are in the country, we were shut down. And one thing became very apparent, we weren’t prepared. How does the quote above affects the HME market? Remote care services (video chat) are critical to the safe management of the COVID-19 pandemic, while also ensuring uninterrupted care for 100 million Americans with chronic conditions (many of whom require HME supplies).

If you don’t have a video chat tool, how do you communicate safely and effectively with your patients who have chronic conditions during COVID?

Question for Eric: Prior to COVID-19, Aeroflow didn’t have a telehealth or video chat solution. What discussions lead up to introducing it?

“We started down the path of exploring video chat or telehealth solution at the very beginning of the year. For us, we were really trying to figure out how do you give an interaction that’s on par with other ways that patients are used to transacting with companies today. We realized we were taking calls for troubleshooting or we had times where our clinicians were required to go back out. Many of these could be taken care over video chat. [Video chat is] something that’s quick and easy and on an as needed basis. It didn’t need to be scheduled or add a lot of cost to the system. We also wanted to do deliveries this way. We want to be able to service a broader geographic area and leverage video chat to do those setups in many cases, nationwide.”

Prediction #2: Patients Will Avoid Care

According to Updox,

  • 70% of clinicians experienced a greater than 50% decrease in patient volume during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 12% of clinicians say that routine check-ins with cancer survivors are happening as usual. And a majority report that follow-up for lung disease, hypertension or diabetes is happening “very little” or “not at all.”
  • 60% of clinicians believe that some of their patients will experience avoidable illnesses, both due to diverted or avoided care.

When I owned my own DME, I took a lot of pride in their part in the patient care continuum. I couldn’t diagnose or offer medical advice, but the one thing that I did know is when a patient needed to see a physician. A telehealth solution gives you the ability to have these more intimate discussions and hopefully get people to see a physician when they need to.

Question for Eric: What patient type is Aeroflow currently engaging using Updox Video Chat?

“We use video chat for the initial CPAP setup for patients who have either have a positive COVID screening because they have been in contact with someone, they are running a fever or there’s some reason why it’s not a good idea to have a face-to-face interaction with them, or patients that maybe don’t have the ability to get to [an Aeroflow] location or leave their home. We are also using video chat for patients that are outside of our immediate geographic area, like folks that moved, and they are getting a new device from us. We are also using it for aftercare as well for patients that have troubleshooting questions that need a refit or a reteach on something…We can answer a lot of those questions more effectively than just being on the phone or sometimes even tracking them down for an in-person appointment.”

Prediction #3 Waiting Rooms Will Disappear

The possibility of eliminating waiting rooms represented one opportunity to transform the patient experience. For patients and family, the feeling of wasted time, alongside others who were ill, was a source of frustration and anxiety and reinforced the prioritization of the system’s needs over the patient’s. - Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin

I think all of us would probably say that [the waiting room is] the worst experience for our healthcare environment. And again, why is this important to a DME? I think it speaks to the overall expectation that a patient has when dealing with any healthcare organization when going through such a shift in the accepted technologies that are being used as a result of COVID.

Updox can help speed up transitional care, speed up revenues, and improve patient communication. Now that [video chat] is universally accepted and healthcare providers have driven this shift, the expectation will be that DMEs will have the same expectation of the same level of communication.

Video chats are very commonly used in personal communications…Up until COVID, it was very rare in the healthcare world, especially DME. How have your patients reacted to video chat consults?

Question for Eric: How are patients reacting to video chat consults?

“All of us have evolved significantly in our day-to-day lives obviously during the pandemic. My work life has become a lot of [video conferences], using GoToMeeting, Zoom, Facetime, et cetera. I’ve had many doctor’s appointments during this time over the same type of technology. It has become the new normal. We are finding that patients are expecting this more modern way of interacting, especially when it comes to DME. I think that all of healthcare is moving in this direction and they expect DME would be doing the same. So, our response has been quite good. I would also say that the virtual waiting room concept is a big win for us. We are able to schedule a patient, have them get on the call a few minutes before the appointment, and we can jump in and join them as our clinicians become available. This has really helped our efficiency. Our drop off calls have gone down to almost practically nothing. We are getting a nice pull through, the patient is getting a good experience, there’s nothing to download, and it’s really easy to interact with the system."

Prediction #4: Virtual Collaboration Will Improve Care Fragmentation

With the introduction of video chat and secure text messaging, virtual collaboration will improve care fragmentation, which isn’t a good prediction. Unintended consequences of technological advances, like the ones below, will become more apparent with the more technologies that you implement in an organization.

  • Inefficiency
  • Ineffectiveness
  • Inequality
  • Commoditization
  • Commercialization
  • Deprofessionalism
  • Depersonalization
  • Despair and Discord

Updox drives all types of communication whether it’s internal communications, communication with external referring partners or patient-facing communication. It’s already a tough atmosphere as far as coordinating care with patients. How many phone calls or voicemails does it take to coordinate with a patient after receiving a referral? There’s usually something wrong with the referral. How many times are your referring partners saying they miss a fax? It is difficult to collaborate with referring partners and patients. If you are using different technologies for all your different tools, that’s just going to get worse.

Question for Eric: How are patients reacting to video chat consults?

“Patients are reacting very positively. Our experience in healthcare has not always been a high tech one, especially when it relates to DME. Our demographic is somewhere in the mid-50s, a good mix of male and female. In general, this population has all lived through this evolution towards video conference, Facetime, and talking to the kids and grandkids over video. This has been an experience that has been very positive for them. Anecdotally, we have heard from many patients that were really concerned about having to go to a DME location. That was a nerve-wracking experience for them during the pandemic. Being able to have a touchless delivery model for medical equipment was very refreshing for them and put them at ease. So we’ve had a really nice response to video chat consults."

Prediction #5: Healthcare Organizations Will Be Paperless

Every three to four years, CMS seems to renew their determination to make healthcare paperless.

The reality is that once information is freely flowing from the patient to the provider, the advances in coordinated, value-based and patient-centric care will be even greater than anything we can imagine today. - Seema Verma, CMS Administrator

Updox allows you to create secure electronic channels with your referring channels. That has greatly improved transitional care. Updox fax on its own is an 11-year-old product that has had tremendous updates over the last decade to our user experience and power.  If you are using a traditional fax machine, I think you’re going to see a lot of improvement and a lot of efficiencies to your workflows and processes with the Updox fax solution.

Question for Eric: As a shelter-in-place restrictions begin to lift, what do you predict for the future of telehealth in the DME arena?

“Personally and from a strategy perspective, we are bullish on telehealth. We feel that if you can deliver care where the patient wants it, you’re going to get the best conversion from the referrals that you receive and you’re going to get the best compliance for the actual usage for the products you’re delivering, which, ultimately, is really the value-based medicine that we’re all driving towards.”

“We are really excited about where telehealth has gone in a short period of time. We really feel like CMS is going to lead the charge on this and we really hope that they continue to push for broad adoption of telehealth and there are no restrictions or anything that should dissuade a patient or DME provider from using a telehealth solution moving forward. For us, we see this as the future. We are measuring it and monitoring it monthly. We have seen an uptick in adoption since shelter-in-place restrictions have started to lift. From being forced to use it in March, April and May to then really driving it, to understanding it and creating efficiency with it in the last quarter. We are really in a spot that by the end of the year, we are going to see further adoption and we’re just going to better figure this out and really how to drive this to our referral sources and to our patients.”

Updox is a trusted vendor-partner for VGM, EW, and all member communities. Click here for more information on Updox and how you can implement it in your business.

This content was originally presented to VGM and EW members by webinar on September 8, 2020. Watch the full webinar.

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