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The unexpected global outbreak of COVID-19 has undeniably influenced the increased usage and awareness of telehealth in providers and patients that may have never used or heard of telemedicine before. For this reason, many believe that telemedicine is a modern invention. However, the concepts of telemedicine and remote patient care, as well as the need for it was recognized many years ago.

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What’s new at Vivadox

At Vivadox, we constantly strive to understand the needs of our customers and help them provide excellent patient care remotely. Based on the feedback we received from our valued customers, we have carefully designed new features that will help optimize telemedicine workflows and increase convenience for both providers and patients.

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Impact of telehealth on COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis

Telemedicine

Ever since the pandemic onset in March 2020, coronavirus became one of the most important topics in our everyday lives. For over a year now, we are constantly being reminded of how serious the COVID-19 illness can be and what preventive measures we need to take to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

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Telemedicine beyond COVID

While 2020 was uniquely challenging for the collective world, the human spirit responded the way it usually does – digging deep, being resourceful and innovating to beat the odds. We saw our frontline workers take care of us notwithstanding the little personal protection that they could access, vaccines developed and distributed in record timelines and we all adapted to new virtual ways of working & accessing services to keep the economy going.

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What telehealth claims reveal in the times of COVID-19

It is undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the shift in healthcare from mostly in-person care to predominantly virtual care. With the need to free up the hospital spaces for the rising number of COVID-19 and other emergent patients, many providers shifted the follow-up and chronic care to virtual. In addition, many specialist appointments are now conducted virtually.

This rapid change of treatment delivery in just a matter of months has made a significant impact on the different aspects of telehealth.

Telehealth impact study gives us a detailed insight into the telehealth claims data during the COVID-19 pandemic by observing different trends in numbers of telehealth visit claims, the distribution of in-state vs out-of-state claims, and the distribution of claims by clinical classification of primary diagnosis. The analyzed data includes millions of claims per month, including private insurances and a limited number of Medicare and Medicaid claims.

The key takeaways from the study are as follows:

  • The total number of telehealth claims rose 24x from February to April of 2020.
  • Almost 50% of all health claims were telehealth claims of April of 2020.
  • Behavioral and Mental health is the leading category in primary diagnosis for telehealth, almost 5x the next major category.

The study shows that all states experienced considerable growth in the number of telehealth claims in 2020 and that this number reached its peak in April of 2020 when many of the non-urgent care providers’ offices were closed. In the following months, the number of such claims started dropping due to many providers opening their doors or finding ways to combine telehealth with face-to-face visits.

To learn more about the study and view the findings visit https://c19hcc.org/telehealth/impact-home/

For a fully interactive report visit https://c19hcc.org/telehealth

Challenges of Telemedicine Implementation in Solo and Small Practices

Challenges of Telemedicine

COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the increase in telemedicine adoption in 2020. Providers, some of which have never used telemedicine before, had to quickly adapt and start providing virtual care to their patients. Many providers went from no telemedicine at all to almost completely operating virtually.

While bigger hospitals and practices had structure and resources to quickly respond to the situation, many solo and smaller providers struggled.

Telemedicine implementation is in no way a simple task for a practice of any size. If the situation was any different, and there was no state of emergency, the process of assessing the need, researching available platforms for the best solution, considering costs, analyzing and optimizing workflow to accommodate for telemedicine, implementation of the chosen solution, training, patient education, and piloting would take months. However, due to the extreme circumstances, all these steps had to be completed in a matter of days.

For solo and smaller practices, the rapid implementation posed an even bigger issue as they do not necessarily have personnel to dedicate to telemedicine implementation. In addition, many of them have neither funding nor infrastructure as bigger hospital and practice systems.

For those reasons, many solo and small practices do not see the value in long-term telemedicine implementation as the constraints of existing regulations and policies that are currently relaxed to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic pose a huge constraint on the finances. If many of their patients would not be able to use the telemedicine services with their current insurance plans and reimbursement regulations, how can such an investment be justified? Hence, many utilize all sorts of non-HIPAA compliant communication platforms to interact with their patients at this time of crisis mainly as a stop-gap measure.

However, telemedicine is becoming more than just a tool, it is becoming a necessity due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. Many benefits and conveniences that telemedicine provides to the patients have resulted in high patient interest in telemedicine appointments. As more and more patients are introduced to telemedicine the demand for such service is on the rise. Where appropriate, patients can access the healthcare they need from the comfort of their homes, with minimal time spent.

Carefully considering and making an investment in a telemedicine tool can help a solo and small practice have a higher patient retention rate and cover the areas that they normally would not be able to due to location constraints and lengthy travel times. In addition, providers can reduce no-show rates and book more back-to-back appointments, even outside of the conventional office hours.

A group of lawmakers are putting the focus back on post-COVID-19 long term telehealth legislation with the introduction of the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act, which aims to retain some emergency telehealth access and coverage rules put in place over the past year to address the Covid pandemic.

“Telehealth has been a game-changer during the Coronavirus pandemic, ensuring that patients can continue to get care while reducing the spread of the virus during routine medical visits,” US Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) said in a press release. “However, patients could face an abrupt end to the practice once the pandemic is over, even though it’s long been a proven and cost-effective way to get care. … This bill ensures the expansion of telehealth can stay in place and be used for continuous care during future disasters and emergencies.”

What is a solution to these problems? Solo and smaller sized practices should look for a low cost but yet powerful telemedicine solution that can provide the full capability and HIPAA-compliant security they need for remote patient care while staying on the budget. This will help them prepare them for a post-COVID-19 telehealth world

With a quick and simple onboarding process, the Vivadox telemedicine platform is designed with solo and small practices in mind. This HIPAA-compliant telemedicine solution comes with zero setup costs and is accessible from any device.  The intuitive flow on both provider and patient side does not require a lot of training to use. Choose from one of three affordable plans and start your telemedicine practice today with 30 days free trial.

Vivadox welcomes Dr. Rohan Walvekar

Vivadox welcomes Dr. Walvekar

Vivadox welcomes Dr. Rohan Walvekar as its Co-founder and Chief Medical Advisor, to help steer the company through the next level of telehealth growth and innovations.

Dr. Walvekar is the ENT and Head Neck Cancer Surgeon at LSU. He teaches the technology to endoscopically manage salivary gland disorders in the Department of Otolaryngology and has made it the leading center in the United States for this procedure. Serving as Mervin L. Trail Endowed Chair in Head and Neck Cancer at LSU Health Sciences Center, Dr. Walvekar is recognized as one of the top three leaders for this surgery.

Dr. Walvekar is a passionate technology innovator, holds patents for surgical innovations and has previously developed a widely used app for the healthcare industry, nDorse, to improve healthcare staff morale and engagement via positive reinforcement.

Why Telemedicine is Here to Stay

Why Telemedicine is here to stay

The global COVID-19 pandemic has strongly influenced the shift in healthcare from mostly in-person care to predominantly virtual care. With the need to free up the hospital spaces for the rising number of COVID-19 and other emergent patients, many providers shifted the follow-up and chronic care to virtual. In addition, many specialist appointments are now conducted virtually. Consequentially, the role of telemedicine shifted from an additional tool that was only used occasionally, to an essential tool that is used to treat a number of patients every day.

With the current climate in the medical world, there is a lot of discussions as to what the future of telemedicine is. Is it here to claim its rightful place in medical care or is it just a temporary tool to help providers fight through pandemic? At Vivadox, we believe that telemedicine is still at its infant stage, and not only is it here to stay but to revolutionize healthcare as we know it.

Here are some of the reasons why telemedicine is here to stay:

High Patient Demand and Convenience

During the global pandemic, it has become clear to both patients and providers that not all follow-ups, prescription refills, consultations, and chronic care appointments require an in-person office visit. Telemedicine allows great convenience and reduced travel time, and most of the patients may be willing to pay standard co-pays or more for this convenience [1]. With a smaller time commitment required from the patients, they no longer need to dedicate a whole day to go receive the treatment they need. With providers constantly looking for ways to enhance the patient experience, telemedicine comes in as an excellent way to attract the patient and use it regularly in the treatment where appropriate.

Untapped Capabilities

Technology is still advancing and the possibilities for the future of telemedicine are endless. The constant advances in technology are constantly influencing the transformation of the healthcare system. Many tech companies are working on improving their healthcare solutions by utilizing everything from well-established communication tools like video and audio calls to revolutionary technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. While incorporating features to obtain providers’ feedback and using it to make adjustments and improvements that would improve both providers’ experience and satisfaction, telemedicine tools are becoming more accepted and viable for everyday use.

Regulations and Reimbursement Policies

As the COVID-19 emerged, many of the regulations and policies governing telemedicine have been loosened and continuously updated to accommodate the current state of emergency. These changes brought an unexpected outcome of establishing the benefits of telemedicine by helping patients continue their treatment with doctors remotely without the risk and fear of virus illness contraction. Many patients that would normally not be able to access telemedicine were able to receive care from the comfort of their homes. There are efforts to change permanent telemedicine and regulations (you can read more about this on the ATA website[2]) to allow greater patient access to telemedicine and for the providers to get adequate reimbursements for the care provided. With the rapid growth of telemedicine, it is expected that the regulations governing telemedicine will be constantly updated and expanded to include new technologies and use cases.

Make Healthcare Accessible

Many rural areas in the United States do not have easy access to healthcare. While there are areas with limited access to the Internet and smartphones, in recent years, there have been great efforts to improve this. Patients must travel for hours at times to receive the adequate care they need. For the older patients with chronic conditions, this can mean that they will not see their providers as often as they should. Allowing telemedicine to continue beyond the pandemic can significantly impact the frequency and quality of care patients in rural are receive. Additionally, they can connect with specialists that they would normally not be able to see due to location constraints and get advice.

Ultimately, virtual care has proven to be beneficial and can have a critical role as a supplemental tool in the future of medical care. With innovative features and improved functionality and coverage, telemedicine tools will become one of the top choices for patient treatment long after the pandemic is over.

Sources:

  1. https://www.ajmc.com/view/patient-and-clinician-experiences-with-telehealth-for-patient-followup-care
  2. https://www.americantelemed.org/policies/ata-permanent-policy-recommendations/

How to Minimize Telemedicine Security Risks

The surge in telemedicine use due to the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the increase in recognition of the numerous benefits telemedicine provides. During the past year, many patients and providers that had never even heard of telemedicine before started using telemedicine to provide and receive the best care possible at these unusual times.

While recognizing the benefits and convenience that telemedicine provides to both providers and patients, there are still some considerable doubts when it comes to security and privacy. For telemedicine to reach its full potential both sides have to trust that their interaction, as well as the personal data transmitted, are kept private and secure. While using at-home networks and personal smart devices may pose certain security risks, we have listed some recommendations that can help you and your patients minimize potential security risks.

Encryption: Using HIPAA Compliant Telemedicine Solution

Many existing platforms that are being used to conduct telemedicine appointments do not meet HIPAA requirements and lack essential safeguards. Some of the key HIPAA requirements include guidelines on encryption. Encryption must be implemented at every step of the process. All of the communication and data exchange during the telemedicine visit should be encrypted as well. When seeking telemedicine solutions, look for information on how they assure HIPAA compliance and what security features they provide.

While using a secure HIPAA compliant telehealth platform is important, it is only one of the steps toward secure communication. Every system is as strong as its weakest link. You can have the top-notch security setup, however, if a user writes down a password on a sticky note by the computer for everyone to see, those security investments are wasted.

Working with telemedicine provider: Data breach and emergency response

Even the best security systems have their flaws. When working with ePHI, it is important to have an established emergency response in case a breach occurs. The breach can happen locally, on healthcare providers’ side, or externally, on the telemedicine providers’ side. This is why you must work together with your telemedicine provider to protect ePHI and learn about their emergency response procedures.

Device security: Keeping antivirus up to date

All of the devices that are accessing ePHI and participating in telemedicine interaction must have up-to-date protection against viruses and other malware. Assuring that providers have appropriate and up to date software installed is an easier step – how can one assure that the patients are using the best security practices to minimize the risks of contracting malware? Providers should take time prior to their virtual appointments to educate patients on easy steps that can make a big difference when it comes to their security on the internet.

The weakest link: Educate your patients on the importance of cybersecurity

Providers should help inform the patients, especially the ones that are less tech-savvy, on best practices and precautions they can take to improve their safety online. Some of the important points to cover are:

  • Using antivirus and assuring they are up to date and properly configured.
  • Regularly updating the operating system and applications they use.
  • Properly enabling and disabling different app permissions based on the usage. In the case of a telemedicine app or web browser used to access the telemedicine link, patients should assure that their microphone and camera permissions are enabled.
  • Being able to recognize fraudulent email, text, or phone communication. Provide your patient with information such as what email addresses and phone numbers you use to send them important communication ahead of time.
  • Advanced: Using VPN and Firewalls.

Accessing patient data remotely

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many providers started treating their patients from their homes, using their personal devices. Due to the presence of highly sensitive information, it is pertinent to have essential safeguards in place in the form of encrypted networks, firewalls, or VPN. These security measures provide users with an added layer of security from any outside malicious users. When you need to log onto your providers’ portal, make sure that you log out as soon as you are done. Also, do not download or store locally any of the patient records.

While we recognize that the concerns about privacy and security are valid, they should not prevent providers and patients from using telemedicine. Security and privacy standards are constantly evolving to minimize risks. Together with providers, telemedicine solutions must work to assure the highest security standards and minimize existing risks. Providers must embrace the role of educating patients about security. Only in this manner will both patients and providers be able to fully embrace telemedicine safely and the many benefits that it offers.

Sources:

https://journalofethics.ama-assn.org/article/privacy-and-security-concerns-telehealth/2014-12

https://healthitsecurity.com/news/must-have-telehealth-remote-work-privacy-and-security-for-covid-19

https://healthitsecurity.com/news/must-have-telehealth-remote-work-privacy-and-security-for-covid-19

https://healthitsecurity.com/news/must-have-telehealth-remote-work-privacy-and-security-for-covid-19

https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2013.0997

https://healthitsecurity.com/news/data-breaches-will-cost-healthcare-4b-in-2019-threats-outpace-tech#:~:text=November%2005%2C%202019%20%2D%20Healthcare%20data,per%20each%20breach%20patient%20record