By Bill Borden
Telehealth has been seen as a safety valve for patient access, but COVID-19 has put new demands on the technology to remotely connect patients with clinicians.
“These platforms were not built for this amount of volume in terms of performance, despite the heroic effort of the doctors, nurses and other clinicians at the frontlines of providing care,” said Neha Sachdeva, KPMG managing director at KPMG’s healthcare technology practice who has helped health systems establish patient access platforms. “Under normal circumstances the wait is a few minutes for a doctor to see a patient. Now the volume is pushing the wait to the one-to-four-hour range, if not more.”
Telehealth, which connects clinicians to other clinicians or directly to patients, offers a great deal of convenience and has come to the fore as regulators have eased restrictions on connecting doctors and patients via phone or video-conferencing.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced on March 17 expanded access to telehealth and telemedicine services to encourage patients to get care at home to limit the risk of spreading Covid-19. A J.D. Power survey in 2019 found that 9.6% of consumers have used telehealth in lieu of a visit to a doctor, urgent care or emergency room in the last 12 months.
With the new demands placed on telehealth systems, Sachdeva says that healthcare providers are using technology to help triage patient volume by installing chat-bots at the front end that asks patients questions about their symptoms or the risk of exposure to Covid-19 to assist with patient triage. For non-urgent cases, the bot can direct the patient to schedule an appointment in the future or to information that provides guidance for social distancing and self-quarantining.
These chat-bot and messaging platforms can help alleviate strain on telehealth platforms based on the nature of a patient’s question, so non-physician clinicians can respond to more basic questions while doctors can focus on more complex patient care.
“We want to match the demand and medical need with the most appropriate caregiver,” Sachdeva said.
Matters of routine scheduling can also address some of the flow of incoming telehealth requests. “A lot of the volume is coming in during typical business hours, but if you can move them to early hours or after work, that can alleviate the strain and improve the performance of the telehealth system.
“There is not a one size fits all solution to retrofitting telehealth programs,” she added. “There needs to be integration with telehealth and medical records to prevent gaps in care and to encourage remote monitoring to manage chronic condition patients during this time and to help people keep low risk COVID-19 patients healthy while isolating at home.”
For more information or to speak with Neha Sacheva, please contact Bill Borden.