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How Telehealth Has Changed During the COVID Pandemic and Its Impact on EHR Use

how telehealth and ehr use changed during covid

According to a December 2021 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “massive increases” in telehealth occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic: an astonishing 63-fold increase. This report, which focuses on Medicare-related usage, shares how telehealth allowed people to receive health care services during an extremely challenging time.

An HHS representative compared pre-pandemic telehealth usage for Medicare patients (“hundreds of thousands” of visits) to pandemic-era visits in the “tens of millions, with many utilizing telehealth for the first time.” More specifically, 840,000 telehealth visits occurred in 2019 with Medicare beneficiaries compared to 52.7 million in 2020, an enormous shift in care delivery.

In response to COVID, Congress enacted emergency waivers to make it easier for people to access healthcare from home, eliminating geographic restrictions. HHS, meanwhile, relaxed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) requirements in regards to videoconferencing.

In addition, many private health plans expanded their telehealth coverage because of COVID. According to HHS, forty-two states plus the District of Columbia now require private insurance providers to reimburse patients for telehealth visits.

As a summation, BMC Public Health published a study that concluded how “Telehealth is an effective option to fight the outbreak of COVID-19 . . . [with] the potential to prevent any sort of direct physical contact, provide continuous care to the community, and finally reduce morbidity and mortality in COVID-19 outbreak.”

Telehealth Integration into EHR Applications

Telehealth visits provide the most benefits to patients when they dovetail as closely as possible to the structure of in-person visits. Ideally, from a healthcare provider’s perspective, this is accomplished with optimal efficiency and cost effectiveness.

A key linchpin to make that happen: having a patient’s information all in one place in an electronic health record. Medical professionals can get a complete picture of a patient’s data—gleaned from both in-person visits and telehealth calls—when all lab results, diagnoses, prescriptions, treatments and more are stored in one central place. This allows physicians and specialists to see how a patient’s health condition changes over time, a crucial element for ongoing quality of care.

Said another way, imagine if healthcare teams needed to enter data into two separate workflows, one for in-person visits and one for telehealth—and then medical professionals needed to consult both to diagnose and treat a patient. That’s inefficient and costly in time (and therefore, in money), creating an environment where errors are more likely to occur.

Meanwhile, seamless access to data creates a more streamlined experience for the medical professionals and patients alike. This helps to increase satisfaction on the patient side and frees up physicians to focus more on providing quality care and less on navigating technology.

Another important benefit of an EHR application: robust EHR systems have synchronous features for real-time consultations through audio and video as well as asynchronous capabilities. With the latter, patients can use devices to provide vitals information, look up test results through patient portals, and communicate with healthcare providers through messaging. Physicians can review data and test results and make diagnoses, prescribe treatments and much more.

EHR systems can then integrate the two functions—synchronous and asynchronous—to provide medical professionals with comprehensive, transparent, real-time views into patient data and conditions.

EHR System Responses to COVID

Quality EHR system companies update their applications as usage needs evolve, and this is true with the pandemic. Epic Cheers is a prime example of how this happens. Debuting in March 2022, this module streamlines the intake process and allows patients to access direct care, even when they’re not inside a physician’s office or hospital building.

The team at Epic Systems specially created this CRM application during COVID. The inspiration? They recognized the urgent need of healthcare organizations to provide quality patient care during the challenging pandemic. Although this application was designed and implemented during COVID, it will have long-standing value, giving healthcare facilities in-depth, transparent insights into populations they serve.

Epic Cheers provides laser-targeted visibility because of the tens of thousands of data points leveraged by this technology. Medical professionals can use this big data to provide individualized care through information provided. The module also allows healthcare facilities to send messaging that’s targeted to a specific patient; for example, the patient could see how to schedule a COVID vaccine, if applicable.

Both Epic Systems and Cerner are collaborating with the White House to enhance their systems to assist with COVID-related needs. Cerner is integrating the most up-to-date drug therapeutics into its content; providing caregivers with treatment recommendations based on material from the Office of Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; and including ASPR’s COVID-19 Therapeutics Locate within Cerner Millennium workflows. The last item allows caregivers to check the location of available drugs.

Epic added COVID-related educational material for patients and providers; allows providers to search on pharmacies that recently restocked treatments; and provides warnings when prescriptions are unavailable.

Other EHR systems with strong telehealth capabilities and a keen focus on healthcare needs during COVID include Allscripts, MEDITECH, and NextGen. If you’re in need of experienced EMR consultants/EHR consultants to implement, optimize, and integrate technology to enhance your healthcare organization’s ability to leverage telehealth services, please contact us online or call (602) 806-8949.

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If you’re seeking experienced professional EHR/EMR consultants—whether you’re switching systems or adding modules to your current one—then we invite you to contact our boutique agency for professionals of unsurpassed quality for:

We specialize in just one niche: augmenting staff in the healthcare IT/EMR/EHR space. Our depth and breadth of experience, extensive networks, industry connections, and agile processes allows us to provide you with the EHR consultants your healthcare facility needs. We’re the fastest, most knowledgeable, and reliable recruiting team in the EMR/EHR industry, providing personalized solutions on the most urgent timelines. To ask questions or to get started, please contact us online or call (602) 806-8949.