5 Challenges and Solutions for Improving Telehealth Adoption Rates
Helping Communities in Need Access Telehealth Services
As we move further into 2020, the benefits of telehealth are well known. Health systems that use telehealth can take on more new patients, improve patient outcomes, and reduce the overall cost of care by reducing hospital readmission rates and the average patient length of stay.
Despite these benefits, telehealth adoption rates remain low throughout certain parts of the country. Complying with state and federal regulations, the initial cost of investing in new technology, and a lack of digital infrastructure have made it more challenging to adopt these services.
Facilities must create feasible solutions for overcoming these challenges before they can seriously consider adopting the latest technology. Learn more about some of the hurdles that come with adopting telehealth and how to overcome them.
Limited Access to Broadband Internet
Facilities and health networks may be hesitant to launch a telehealth program if many of their patients lack access to the internet. According to the Federal Communications Commission, around 19 million Americans lack access to broadband internet. Even if broadband services are available, there are still nearly 100 million Americans that choose not to subscribe for various reasons.
Many of these consumers live in remote or rural areas, which means they have the most to gain from increasing telehealth adoption. Around one-fourth of those living in rural areas lack access to broadband. Those living in rural areas may have to drive long distances to visit the nearest care provider in person, and accessing local health centers in the winter can be even more challenging.
- Health systems considering telehealth can use maps and data collected by the FCC to pinpoint specific areas that do not have access to broadband services. If some areas have access to broadband services but local residents chose not to subscribe, care providers can talk to their patients about the benefits of accessing healthcare over the internet, including better communication, reduced commutes or wait times, and monitoring their health from the comfort of their own home.
- Facilities can also apply to the FCC’s Connected Care NPRM, the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and other government programs that are designed to bring broadband services to underserved communities.
Lack of Digital Infrastructure
Having access to the right technology is a crucial part of the telehealth adoption process. Facilities need computers, tablets, smartphones, and other equipment to bring telehealth programs online. This is what’s known as digital readiness. However, many facilities and health systems lack access to this technology.
- Healthcare providers and staff members should be well-versed in the benefits of using modern digital technology, including faster communication, automatic backups, and the ability to connect with patients on the go. Facilities can also use this technology to better prepare for local emergencies and disasters, including floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires.
- If facilities lack access to the latest technology, some staff members may be able to use their personal digital devices at work to reduce initial startup costs. Many facilities have bring-your-own-device or BYOD policies in place. However, these devices must comply with the latest state and federal regulations, including HIPAA, to ensure sensitive information stays private.
Digital literacy is defined as the ability to use digital devices, including computers, smartphones and tablets. Patients and providers should feel comfortable using this technology, however, some patients, such as the elderly, may have trouble navigating these devices.
- Care providers can talk to their patients about this technology to get a better sense of whether they will utilize a telehealth program, including sending and receiving personal health information, answering texts, and setting up automatic reminders.
- Providers can also help their patients modify this technology, so they can use these devices more efficiently. Patients can increase the size of the text on the screen to improve visibility. They can also use audio translations if they have trouble seeing. Patients can also use larger devices to help them navigate the keys and controls.
Complying with State and Federal Regulations
Telehealth reimbursement rates tend to vary by state with strict regulations in terms of how this technology can be used, where patients can access telehealth services, and how much providers are compensated for their time. Navigating these regulations can be an uphill climb for some healthcare facilities.
Some facilities and networks may be skeptical of the value of telehealth if it means additional scrutiny from the state and federal government. Reduced reimbursement rates make it more difficult to adopt telehealth programs, considering the provider will make less money than they would if they were seeing patients in person.
- State and federal telehealth regulations have steadily improved over the last few years, incentivizing more providers to adopt these tools. Currently, 29 states and Washington D.C. have telehealth parity laws in place, which means telehealth services are reimbursed at the same rate as in-person services. Facility administrators and care providers should continue monitoring these trends as state lawmakers slowly embrace telehealth.
- To ensure a return on investment, facilities can come up with additional ways to profit off telehealth systems, such as after-hours virtual care, downstream referrals, virtual mental health counseling, and acquiring additional patients, including those outside of the immediate area.
Telehealth also makes it possible for providers to see patients outside of the immediate area, including those across state lines, but licensing requirements can put some patients out of reach.
- Providers can participate in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which allows them to practice in all member states. This can simplify the multi-state licensing process. If a large number of patients are located in a nearby state, providers should consider the benefits of getting licensed in another state if it means taking on more patients.
As challenging as these obstacles may seem, there’s always a solution right around the corner. The benefits of telehealth remain clear. Providers can use this information to adopt telehealth programs in a way that makes sense for their business and their patients.
Visit InTouchHealth.com to learn more about getting a telehealth program off the ground.