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Providers have looked to telehealth to continue seeing patients and revenue cycle technologies to improve efficiencies.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, it presented health systems across the U.S. with a need to accelerate innovation during an unprecedented time that shut down many in-person medical services. 

Health systems quickly turned their attention to rapidly scaling telehealth, deploying artificial intelligence and improving revenue cycle, according to new research from the Center for Connected Medicine.

The CCM’s fourth annual “Top of Mind for Top Health Systems” report, which surveyed 117 executives representing 112 healthcare provider organizations, focuses on how innovation priorities shifted in response to COVID-19, and the role of key technologies in managing the pandemic. The report, conducted in partnership with KLAS Research from May to August 2020, was published today.

The results indicate these technologies were priorities for the future at many health systems before the pandemic, but COVID-19 caused them to fast-track implementation, looking to telehealth to continue seeing patients, artificial intelligence to enable better decision-making and revenue cycle management technologies to improve efficiencies.

WHAT’S THE IMPACT?

Among the key findings: Nine out of 10 organizations successfully met increased telehealth demand during the pandemic. But the quick implementation of solutions magnified opportunities for improvement, including integration and patient and clinician experience, that many will seek to address in the coming year.

Three-quarters of respondents said their organizations are measuring and analyzing data from telehealth use. However, a limited number are examining telehealth-related health outcomes.

Telehealth is expected to receive continued focus and expansion in 2021. System consolidation, ease of use, patient experience, connectivity and integration are areas of particular importance. Yet regulation and reimbursement structures post-pandemic – areas of uncertainty – are considered obstacles to continued high utilization of telehealth programs and services.

Half of the respondents reported using AI in response to the pandemic for applications such as clinical decision support, management of beds, staffing and devices, and analytics – experience that is boosting interest in the technology and pointing to greater utilization in the year ahead.

A majority of respondents said their organizations are using 20% or less of their healthcare data to inform AI applications, suggesting health systems need to do more to standardize and share their data. Healthcare organizations are most often leveraging AI technology for clinical decision support.

AI technology is most often being implemented in the form of vendor software solutions. It’s less common for healthcare organizations to build their own AI capabilities. A majority of are satisfied with current AI regulations, but many are concerned that future restrictions around privacy and security will make it more difficult to use AI solutions.

Identified as an area most in need of innovation, revenue cycle management has become a greater priority for health systems, with 57% saying they are optimistic or very optimistic that innovation can happen in the coming year. Respondents are most confident technology can help solve issues around coding and billing or accounts receivable. They’re less confident technology is the best answer to aid price transparency and ACO requirements for shared savings.

In the coming year, organizations plan to push innovation in revenue cycle management by increasing telehealth as a revenue stream, enabling more employees to work remotely, and using more technology to monitor revenue cycle data and decision-making.

Predictive analytics, AI, bots, and automation are cited as the most-needed technologies to improve revenue cycle management (cited by 26% of respondents) as health systems look for opportunities to be more efficient.

Many said technology alone is insufficient to enable greater price transparency. Rather, regulatory changes are needed from the federal government, and systemic changes are needed to healthcare billing in the U.S.

THE LARGER TREND

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the use of telehealth in U.S. healthcare, and, according to Fitch Ratings, providers and distributors are poised to benefit from this trend, since remote care services are helping to effectively provide a revenue stop-gap during a time of social distancing and patient apprehension over entering the healthcare system.

Telehealth is largely providing revenue continuity, and the ripple effects are being felt in the supply chain as well, with doctors continuing to prescribe medications.

As of mid-month, providers have 11 additional telehealth services that will be reimbursed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Medicare will begin paying eligible practitioners for these services immediately, and for the duration of the pandemic. These new telehealth services include certain neurostimulator-analysis and programming services, as well as cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation services.

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