Sheets underscored the benefits of telehealth in improving access in rural areas.
“Because we are a system serving an eight-state region, with numerous rural communities, we are keenly focused on keeping care local and extending difficult-to-access specialty services such as psychiatry, neurology and infectious disease care to rural communities,” he said.
Telehealth garners insurer support
The auspicious future of telehealth is evidenced by the support it has received from commercial insurers. Nationally, for example, the Blue Cross Blue Shield System has voiced strong support for telehealth services. BCBS has noted that such services will be of particular interest to millennials. Speaking in 2020 on its companies’ commitment to expand coverage and access to telehealth services after the pandemic, the insurer said, “For millennials, this shift could lead to a welcome, lasting change.”a BCBS also noted that a key takeaway from listening sessions with millennials and industry leaders was that “while millennials do not want to lose access to in-person care, they do need the flexibility and convenience of telehealth.” (For a discussion of the status of telehealth payment policy at the federal level, see the sidebar at the end of this article.)
Telehealth challenges and potential pitfalls
Technology poses one of the greatest challenges to an effective telehealth strategy, Kumar said.
“Integration is essential between the various versions of programs, platforms and operating systems,” he said. “The biggest hurdle is getting all those elements to work together seamlessly. you need a combination of compatibility, interoperability and ease-of-use. There are many wonderful apps out there, but we need to ensure that they feed back into our electronic medical record system and allow providers to easily access the information in one location as opposed to having to go to multiple platforms.”
Kumar also underscored the need for a strong technology team that can ensure patient needs are met in a way that aligns with the organization’s mission and delivery of care.
And then there are cost and timing challenges. “It takes a lot of strategic planning to make sure the technology is ready when needed. analytics play a large role in the decision-making process of resource investment. you need actionable analytics to avoid building out and presenting a platform before the patient population is ready.”
Sheets pointed to patient and physician adoption as early barriers, which Intermountain was able to overcome through quality service and access.
“Creating a relationship of trust with patients via technology is always a challenge, as well as emulating the in-person experience,” he said.
Payment is another ongoing challenge to telehealth, Sheets noted.
“While rates have improved, we still are challenged to obtain the payment levels that cover the costs of the providers,” he said.