By Terrence D. Sims, President of Strategic Growth and Marketing, Raintree Systems |

Despite being part of the healthcare scene for more than a decade, telehealth has consistently struggled to gain traction. That is, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Nearly overnight, virtual care became the option of choice for millions of Americans unable or unwilling to leave their homes for in-person medical visits. Now, it seems there’s no going back.

Not surprisingly, it turns out that most patients love the convenience and the time saved when they receive routine care, see specialists, access behavioral health services or engage in physical, speech or occupational therapy from the comfort of home. The willingness of payers such as Medicare, Medicaid and private insurers to expand coverage for telehealth services during the pandemic has also fueled increased popularity.

Now that there’s a will, what’s the best way to move telehealth adoption forward?

Roadmap for success

Most importantly, providers need to have the right technology in place for this paradigm shift, and that starts with solid IT infrastructure. Similar to building a multi-lane highway for vehicles, IT infrastructure needs to be constructed with the capability to promote a seamless flow of bi-directional traffic – in this case, data, software applications, text and video. This infrastructure must also be able to accommodate and connect any type of mobile or stationary device, anywhere, anytime.

Like massive 18-wheeler rigs hogging lanes on the interstate, video gobbles up huge amounts of internet bandwidth. So embedded telehealth solutions need to be thoughtfully designed to optimize the transfer of video, audio and text streams between provider and patient in order to be highly effective, support an excellent user experience and help deliver reliable health care outcomes.

Moving beyond one-size-fits-all

Since telehealth adoption has been relatively limited until now, most solutions have been developed for general use across the health care continuum, as was the case with the first generation or two of electronic health record (EHR) software. But as the number of telehealth users increases and the variety of uses expands, it has become increasingly clear that it’s time to move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach.

Most medical specialties, sub-specialties and specialty practices have the potential to offer virtual options for at least some components of care, whether it’s a pre-surgical consult, a group counseling session with a psychologist or a physical, occupational or speech therapy session. But just as the latest iterations of EHRs are increasingly tailored to specialized applications, telehealth solutions must be customized to meet the divergent needs of providers and patients.

Tailoring telehealth solutions

For example, a behavioral health practice wants a telehealth solution that enables psychologists conducting virtual therapy sessions to document in real time directly into a patient’s EHR, and may need the ability to document for multiple patients participating in a group session. Family practitioners need the ability to integrate remote monitoring devices, whether checking blood pressure, temperature or heart rates. Surgeons, speech-language pathologists, physical therapists and chiropractors have their own unique documentation and patient communication requirements, to name just a few other types of practices with varying needs.

In addition to enabling practitioners to examine, engage and treat patients, comprehensive telehealth solutions ideally incorporate the ability to securely collaborate with peer providers or specialists, connect with referral sources and handle billing, payment, scheduling and other practice management needs. At Raintree Systems, our embedded, customizable and programmable engagement platform is HIPAA-compliant, supporting telehealth, secure email messaging, text notifications, patient clinical questionnaires and treatment outcomes. Practitioners can interact with individual and multiple patients in a single virtual session, and take advantage of a range of tools and supports from screen sharing to virtual reception.

Prepare for the new paradigm

Pandemic or no pandemic, consumer expectations are likely to make the need to implement telehealth options increasingly commonplace across the health care spectrum. In today’s fast-changing environment, it’s more critical than ever to make sure your underlying IT infrastructure is up to speed and your telehealth solution is customized to your specific needs. That way, your practice can maximize care delivery flexibility and satisfaction for patients and providers, while also optimizing care outcomes, affordability and efficiency.

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