By Alexi Alizadeh
Just last year, telehealth was a fringe practice. Whether telehealth will remain mainstream beyond the COVID-19 pandemic remains to be seen, but what is known is that comfort levels with telehealth have drastically increased by this forced accelerated adoption.
Part of the normalization of this virtual practice can be attributed to the US Department of Health and Human Services lifting key barriers to virtual care, like the ability to use consumer-friendly video chat platforms like Apple and Facebook. By removing the ‘red tape’ for access to telehealth care, these platforms have proven their value of virtual care to skeptics.
The question that remains is: will tech giants who have side stepped regulations from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) be able to rise to the occasion and protect sensitive health information as the health system comes to rely more on their platforms?
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I had a stroke at the age of 22, and at the time didn’t realize how it would change my career trajectory. Faced with paralyzing fear that made it difficult to pick up the phone, scheduling an appointment was difficult, and assembling the records that would result in a productive appointment was an immense challenge that almost caused me to forego care. Today, a decade after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the cracks in the healthcare system are readily apparent to patients like me who often go unheard in their struggle to seek care, while paying for a greater portion out of pocket than ever before.
Following my recovery, I was ready to use my regulatory and policy background to bring about change in the industry. We needed patient-centric tools that enable access to quality, appropriate care. I realized a scheduling and telehealth platform that provided true virtual care would simplify patients’ ability to research the right provider and provide providers better access to their patients through an easy-to-use software, far from the complicated EHRs providers are used to using. But my vision was progressing slowly. Despite growing evidence that it could be safe and effective, a tangled web of unprepared insurance payers, state-specific regulations, and ill-equipped physician practices hampered access and payment for telehealth.
In times of crisis, innovation is able to gain the momentum to propel industries forward. The COVID-19 health emergency led to the relaxing of telemedicine regulations that mandate compliance with HIPAA, accelerated the adoption of telemedicine as a practice, and forced providers to move quickly to meet the needs of patients and providers through virtual care. Many are relying on technology that hasn’t been made for use during a pandemic. It’s clear that impromptu telemedicine via Zoom is not enough to meet patient needs and has serious limitations when it comes to appropriate record keeping, integration and ongoing care management. Patients need digital health platforms that improve access to care, telemedicine experiences that deliver high quality remote care, and a secure, patient-centric approach.