Betting Big on Telehealth: Should Healthcare Stakeholders Go All-In?

An uncertain payment and regulatory telehealth landscape beyond the PHE could lead to tough decisions upcoming for providers

As reported in Healthcare Innovation

…MedStar Health, which operates more than 300 healthcare entities, including 10 hospitals in the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area, had been using telehealth services vendor Bluestream Health to perform its virtual visits prior to the pandemic, and began to pivot from a business-to-business deployment use-case to a direct-to-consumer strategy that was jumpstarted by the crisis, recalls Ethan Booker, M.D., medical director of the MedStar Telehealth Innovation Center and MedStar eVisit. So naturally, in late February, when conversations among MedStar Health leaders on how COVID-19 would impact care delivery began to ramp-up, Booker’s team was able to fall back on the several telehealth use cases already established via the Bluestream platform as opposed to needing to reinvent the wheel. “Rather than trying to rebuild infrastructure from the ground up to respond to the new digital reality, we used the infrastructure that existed already and pieced it together in ways that made a lot of sense,” he says.

MedStar Health is still providing a lot of its care via telehealth today; in its primary care clinics, about 70 percent of visits are being done in person, with 30 percent done over video or phone. On the behavioral health front, the virtual care drop-off that took place across most other service lines never happened at MedStar Health ; Booker reports that in the organization’s behavioral health offices, less than 10 percent of ambulatory psychiatry visits are done in the office, and more than 90 percent are being done with the patient at home.

Booker believes one key reason MedStar Health has been able to continue providing so many telehealth visits is because it made the investment already. “We have invested in system platforms as well as in the integration of telehealth platforms into our EHRs and into our workflows.” But he notes perhaps the biggest investment that has been made has actually been in changing the culture. “Getting providers and patients to try telehealth has really changed the mindset of the providers and their willingness to do it. Instead of automatically thinking about the clinic and the in-person experience, they are now asking themselves, ‘What are the options here for my patient?’…

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