Why EHR Interoperability is Critical for Telehealth

Telehealth has recently taken off as a way to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, but even though telehealth has been around for several years, clinics had difficulty adopting it pre-COVID-19. This caused clinics to not view telehealth as a viable option, and it was often seen as a last resort approach to healthcare. 

As reducing the spread of COVID-19 became paramount, Medicare and Medicaid were forced to develop telehealth service codes, and clinics were tasked with finding an immediate virtual solution.  Telehealth has gained so much momentum so quickly that Grandview Research is predicting the telehealth market to be valued at just over $155 billion worldwide by 2020. 

Clinics that aren’t currently investing in virtual solutions now are at risk of losing patients. According to a recent survey by Sage Growth Partners and Black Book Market Research, 33% of patients would consider leaving their current physician for one that offered telehealth access. As clinics around the world learn how to implement telehealth solutions, their EHRs need to be robust enough to handle the changing demands. 

Not all EHR telehealth functionalities are created equally, and this is most clearly demonstrated by their respective levels of interoperability. It’s one thing to say an EHR has telehealth capabilities, but it’s important to evaluate whether the EHR is flexible enough to offer a user-friendly experience. Practitioners should ask themselves whether the EHR’s approach to telehealth is making virtual care easier. For example, is patient data from telehealth services easily transferable to the billing department, or does it require several minutes or hours of data entry? Most importantly, providers need to fully understand how their technology is helping or hindering patients. 

When telehealth and other clinical functions are interoperable within the clinic’s existing EHR, practitioners will have more time to spend with patients and less time on administrative tasks. According to research published by the Advisory Board, doctors spend 37% of their days on administrative tasks, leaving significant room for improvement. Additionally, telehealth helps reduce patient no-show rates and increases care access to those with limited access to transportation and patients who live in rural communities. 

Another benefit of having telehealth seamlessly integrated into the EHR platform is that video technology is HIPAA-compliant through 256-bit AES encryption of all meeting data and chat messages.

Addressing Common Telehealth Challenges with Interoperability 

Even after the COVID-19 outbreak, several clinics still don’t have optimized telehealth solutions and rely on virtual meeting sites instead. While this might work for clinics with one provider, this approach gets expensive quickly for clinics with several physicians. It’s easy to buy one virtual meeting license, but purchasing multiple licenses can add up quickly. On top of that, patient data still needs to be entered into the EHR after the visit ends. 

Care coordination is also a challenge for providing telehealth services. In-person, patients talk to the front desk to set up appointments, fill out forms before they see the doctor, and go through a separate billing process post-appointment. Telehealth wasn’t designed to mirror physical visits, but more advanced technology is helping coordinate the administrative processes for virtual patients. 

Provider and staff comfortability with telehealth solutions also needs to increase. Even though telehealth is a fairly new implementation at most clinics, comfort with technology can be increased with interoperability. The learning curve for telehealth is reduced when all key components of healthcare are integrated and connected through one EHR and work together in a seamless fashion.  

The Future of Telehealth 

Telehealth is still in its infancy, but its impact will remain long after the COVID-19 pandemic. The rising popularity of telehealth not only reduces the spread of infectious diseases and provides greater patient healthcare access, but it also opens the door to virtual clinical trials. With virtual clinical trials, studies aren’t limited by geographic boundaries. Recruitment is more straight-forward and patient engagement is simplified. Most importantly, interoperable telehealth platforms can better collect and record key patient data necessary for the approval of life-saving drugs. 

With its rising prominence, telehealth is expected to shift to mimic in-person visits as much as possible. Practitioners will think about designing their virtual space to help patients feel as comfortable as they do in a physical office. Although telehealth has near limitless potential, practitioners will need to discover a way to mirror the professional feeling of their in-person offices within their telehealth spaces. 

Telehealth is no longer a fringe service—it’s integral to the modern healthcare landscape. The use of this technology is helping physicians be more efficient, track better care outcomes, and communicate more effectively with patients and each other. As the healthcare landscape continues to evolve, telehealth will continue to grow in use.