Apart from “pandemic,” the word “telehealth” is likely to be one of the biggest buzzwords of 2020, and for good reason. Telehealth has been thrust into the spotlight as a result of the pandemic in an effort by the healthcare industry to serve patients wherever they are, provide treatment, and reduce the chance of spreading the massively infectious COVID-19 virus. I personally had my very first virtual visit two weeks ago, and it was fantastic! Never again will I suffer the waiting room as a first step to my own personal care. Telehealth visits are likely to be a novel experience for many, but it will soon transition to be the operative norm going forward as we all approach a post-coronavirus “new normal.”
In preparation for telehealth integration as part of the “new normal,” hospital executives across the country are committing to investing in telehealth technologies. As hospital IT departments rush to meet this demand, however, there are two items to consider:
Total Telehealth: What You’re Missing
Telehealth has been used in the ambulatory care setting for quite some time now, but it has been applied less in the acute care setting. Clearly, hospitals are a different business with a different set of needs than ambulatory care centers, and if you apply a telehealth strategy built for ambulatory care, it may not be a complete fit for your hospital. If they are truly going to implement a comprehensive telehealth strategy, hospitals must consider how they can transition the patient from telehealth care to an in-person visit should that need arise. The entire point of telehealth is to reduce the amount of physical contact, and with it, the risk of transmitting an infectious disease. If it is determined that the patient needs to come into your hospital, and they are met with paper-based forms that they have to sign as they sit in a waiting room, then it defeats the purpose. However, if you extend electronic forms that the patient can electronically complete and sign on their own devices at home in advance of crossing your hospital’s threshold, then the “total telehealth” experience stays true to the goals of reducing disease transmission risk and improving patient experience. When the patient is able to complete their electronic forms at home, they can then arrive at your hospital for a completely contactless check-in process that is much faster and much safer.
As of right now, most hospitals are missing this component of their telehealth strategy, and they will likely have to rectify this situation at a later time. Adding patient at-home electronic forms and signature solutions into your strategy now will promote a total telehealth experience for your patients. NORMAN REGIONAL HEALTH SYSTEM IMPLEMENTS ZERO-CONTACT REGISTRATION PROCESS
Paying for it: The Grant to Apply for Now
Understanding what you want out of a telehealth solution for your system is just the first part of the strategy; acquiring the funds to make it a reality for your hospital, to put it mildly, is a significant part of your strategy. Fortunately, government grants are available to health systems right now to help fund telehealth solutions. The money is finite, however, and is available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you want to use grant money to fund your telehealth initiative, there is no time to waste; now is the time to act.
The grant you want to leverage is the COVID-19 Telehealth Program in which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set aside $200 million appropriated as part of the broader Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Note that this money is only available to eligible nonprofit and public healthcare organizations. Applying for the grant is straightforward, and here are slides from a recent FCC webinar that clearly articulate the application process and subsequent steps.
The program is extended until the money is depleted or the pandemic subsides whichever comes first.
As of May 5, here is where the program stands.Of the $200M in available funds:
- $33,256,036 has been awarded to 99 institutions (click here to see the list)
- 16.6% of total funds have been awarded
- $373,663 is the average amount awarded per healthcare facility
- Two separate $1M amounts have been awarded to Mayo Clinic and Ochsner Clinic Foundation
Without a doubt, these funds will go quickly. It is imperative that you act now to ensure that you have a “total telehealth” system that combines virtual visits and patient at-home electronic form and signature solutions for a contactless pre-registration process.