The State of Telehealth: June 2020

Telehealth solutions continue to play a critical role in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic, both internationally and domestically. These services reduce overcrowding in hospital and primary care waiting rooms, which facilitates social distancing measures and helps protect patients (especially at-risk populations) who need to schedule routine procedures. This article surveys a number of recent developments in telehealth, looks toward a potential future, and identifies ways you can support your network to prepare for future innovation.

Telehealth and HIPAA

One of the most notable recent developments is a change in the enforcement of HIPAA regulations to give health care providers more flexibility. Under this amended policy, patients can access telehealth services using “non-public-facing” remote communication products, including FaceTime, Zoom, Whatsapp, and similar programs and apps. What these “non-public facing” programs share is that they enable the user some control over the transmission of data (including when to turn on video, when to mute audio, and notification of recording the exchange), as well as, in many cases, end-to-end encryption. This is in contrast to public-facing remote communication tools (e.g., Facebook Live, a public chat room) that are designed for open access, and therefore offer limited opportunity for anonymity.

This notice of non-enforcement is designated as “temporary,” but has not been given an expiration date. Therefore, it is possible that given sufficient adoption and absence of egregious breaches or interceptions, this may become a permanent exception to HIPAA regulations that will eventually be codified. In theory, this may greatly facilitate widespread adoption of telehealth services, as patients would not be required to use custom apps or tools designed specifically for HIPAA compliance. Often, such services, while theoretically more secure, can often be cumbersome to use and serve as a sort of barrier to widespread telehealth adoption.

Increasing Adoption

According to a recent survey from Sage Growth Partners (SGP) and Black Book Market Research, only 25% of respondents had used telemedicine before the current pandemic. However, 59% said they had become more likely to do so in the future. 33% of respondents would even consider switching primary care providers if telehealth services were unavailable.

However, there are still challenges toward widespread adoption. In addition to the aforementioned barriers to use, the largest barrier to adoption appears to be uncertainty over service availability. In the same survey, only 44% of respondents were certain telehealth services were available to them; 35% were unsure. Therefore, it is incumbent upon health care providers to clearly communicate their service offerings to their patients, and insurance companies to provide clarity on coverage options and co-pays.

Preparing Your Network

If, as some health care sources indicate, up to 20-30% of routine visits will inevitably move virtual, health care facilities will require much more bandwidth and robust network security to deliver the same quality of care as they would in-person. To support this initiative, Champion ONE has proven experience helping health care providers of all sizes add bandwidth and upgrade their networks. Additionally, Champion ONE can provide network security solutions, especially at the aggregation layer. To learn more about our experience and expertise in health care, contact us today.

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