Virtual healthcare has emerged as one of the most prevalent healthcare trends of 2022, especially following the Covid-19 Pandemic. The number of patients turning to virtual providers and relying on them instead of conventional healthcare options has grown significantly in the last couple of years.
According to some statistics, the use of virtual care delivery has increased to almost 40 times compared to before the Pandemic. One primary reason for this is that many patients, especially those in rural areas, say they prefer the convenience of receiving medical care when they need it and in the comfort of their own homes.
The growth of virtual healthcare may have garnered a lot of attention and interest, but it's still not free from challenges. More and more healthcare providers are adopting and adapting to remote delivery of care, but significant barriers remain. This is due to several reasons, and we will look at three significant challenges that virtual healthcare providers face today as they navigate these new virtual waters.
Technology Challenges on Both Sides
A 2021 report from the Office of the Inspector General identified internet connectivity and technology costs as two of the most significant hurdles to providing remote behavioral health services to Medicaid enrollees. Though focused on a single patient population and specialty, the same challenges apply with other types of telehealth services.
In a virtual roundtable held last March on telehealth and co-hosted by T-Mobile and Becker’s Hospital Review, broadband connectivity as well as other technology issues – including compatibility between devices and operating systems – were identified as significant barriers for both patients and providers.
In addition, video feed disruptions, dropped calls, and access to the internet (particularly in underserved areas) are also hurdles telemedicine solution providers must overcome for continued and successful development.
Though it has yet to be tested on a broad scale, some experts believe that the expansion of 5G technology may well provide the answer to extending the telehealth connection.
Security and Privacy Concerns
As anyone who’s read a horror story headline about the latest data breach can tell you, security is an ongoing concern. The rise in cybercrimes has increased the risks and concerns about hackers and cybercriminals who seek to steal sensitive information.
Several virtual healthcare providers have already suffered due to data breaches. According to news reports, on Jan. 4, 2022, Colorado-based South Denver Cardiology Associates reported infiltration of their systems where there was an exfiltration of data of more than 287,000 patients. Another report claimed an increase of 55% in cases of data breaches in 2020.
Patient information is protected under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and security rules mandate that virtual communications between providers and patients be protected by safeguards such as additional authentication and digital signatures. This has given rise to “HIPAA-ready” tech solutions designed to mitigate security vulnerabilities and enhance protocols already in place.
According to the HIPAA Journal, The American College of Physicians (ACP), American Telemedicine Association (ATA), and the Organization for the Review of Care and Health Applications (ORCHA) have joined together to help address these concerns and speed up the adoption of telehealth.
Known as the The Digital Health Assessment Framework, the collaboration is intended to help create and curate an extensive range of digital health tools for providers and patients, as well as help ensure clinical effectiveness and patient data safety.
Regulatory Monitoring Hurdles
The growth of virtual healthcare has led to the emergence of several players in the security space. This has given way to a surge in innovation and technological improvements, but there are still significant challenges facing the healthcare industry concerning regulation and compliance.
Compliance, which goes hand in hand with security, has done some belt-tightening since the Pandemic and resulting COVID 19 waivers were in place. Ever under the watchful eye of Federal and state regulators, tele-services pertaining to not only the illness itself (providers) but also the cure (prescriptions) are facing additional scrutiny.
In response, lawmakers are continuing to weigh such pros as increased service to underserved communities and patient segments against such cons as patient privacy and continuity of care.
Monitoring the administrative side of your business is an essential part of running a successful customer-centric agency, whether that’s sending policy renewal reminders or keeping clients informed on changes in costs and benefits. Account enough time for that, and use the digital tools that are available to remain organized and cross these tasks off your list.