Colleges and universities are offering graduate programs and certificates to improve the delivery of telehealth.
These programs aim to help clinicians navigate the logistics of delivering remote care, as well as the complex subjects of regulatory compliance and billing.
Two telehealth education program leaders said that the transition to telehealth is part of a much broader trend of consumerization in healthcare.
Want to deliver better telehealth care? There are new graduate programs and certifications to help HCPs accomplish this. The experts behind these programs say that proper training can enhance care quality, improve reimbursement, and ensure regulatory compliance.
That’s good news for any HCP who now offers such services, because data indicate that telehealth is likely here to stay. In interviews with MDLinx, two authorities on telehealth education elaborated on present and future educational opportunities to enhance this resource.
Telehealth and consumerization
The COVID-19 pandemic forced widespread modifications to healthcare—something the industry had been reluctant to do.
According to an August 2020 Deloitte report, American healthcare consumers who engaged with healthcare technology during the pandemic liked what they saw on their smartphone, tablet, and laptop screens. Among those surveyed, 80% said they likely would use virtual visits again.
Among Gen Zers and Millennials—two key demographics for future healthcare service consumption—86% and 83% said they would use telehealth again, respectively, as did 88% of individuals with a chronic disease.
But it isn’t just younger, technologically savvy generations that are drawn to telehealth. The same report indicated that the greatest increases of telehealth usage were among Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, two demographics that will have increased healthcare needs sooner rather than later.
That demand, if met, can translate to profit for providers, their employers, and payers. According to a July 2021 McKinsey report, telehealth usage stabilized a bit after seeing a close to 80% increase over pre-COVID levels in April 2020.
At the time of the report’s publication, usage was 38 times greater than before anyone was talking about COVID. McKinsey estimates that telehealth is a “quarter-trillion dollar economic opportunity.”
How do clinicians—and the healthcare industry at large—make the most of that opportunity?
Meeting the telehealth demand
Education may help clinicians embrace consumerization.
The two experts who spoke with MDLinx offered insights on how this could happen.
Debra Wolf, PhD, MSN, the director of the Healthcare Informatics program at Chatham University, leads the university’s Master of Science in Healthcare Informatics program, which includes a telehealth certificate.
Wolf said that meeting the telehealth demand with high-quality care means knowing and accepting that consumerization is here to stay. Telehealth is an opportunity to deliver care where, when, and how patients want it.
"I think telehealth offers us that tele-personal service if we follow through with it in a professional manner."
— Debra Wolf, PhD, MSN
“People want to be respected and they want to be a part of their care, so consumerization is critical,” she added.
Elizabeth Krupinski, PhD, is a professor and vice-chair of research at Emory University’s Department of Radiology, and she’s also the associate director of evaluation for the Arizona Telemedicine Program at the University of Arizona.
Krupinski said that telehealth is just one small component of an overarching trend of consumerization and patient empowerment. She outlined a future hypothetical scenario in which a person wearing a remote monitoring device has a cardiac event. Their entire care team gets notified, and a clinician calls via video to determine their condition. Consumerization, she predicted, will transform telehealth from its own separate healthcare entity to a seamless part of the system.
"Once we get rid of the term ‘telemedicine,’ then we’re there. Because then it’s just another way we interact in this broader ecosystem of healthcare. "
— Elizabeth Krupinski, PhD
Getting there, according to Wolf and Krupinski, is going to take some training for HCPs. That’s where their programs come in.
Training for telehealth
Broadly speaking, the Arizona and Chatham University programs cover similar terrain.
First, there’s the straightforward but sometimes-bungled question of how a clinician should act on a telehealth call. This includes everything from how to frame yourself on camera, selecting a suitable background, and ensuring clear audio and video to giving coaching instructions to patients on how to use the technology. Few, if any, traditional clinical education programs cover these topics.
“They know how to do medicine. That’s not the issue,” Krupinski said. “The issue is how to adapt it to this virtual environment.”
To ease adaptation, both programs cover those basics as well as technological innovations that are facilitating virtual care. Patients can now go to telehealth offices where a clinician will use devices that feed vitals—such as breath sounds and heart rate, or even images of the mouth and ears—to a doctor in another location.
Both programs include some back-office training, too. According to Wolf, telehealth posed some complex business questions. For example:
How does a patient complete and sign paperwork in a virtual health call?
What are the appropriate billing codes so a clinician actually gets reimbursed for their work?
And how might legislative activity affect that billing?
Then there’s staying abreast of the regulatory environment. This is a real challenge, because as Krupinski said, regulations are “an ever-changing landscape.” Some of the regulatory waivers for HIPAA compliance have expired—or will.
“What we try to tell people is think toward the future, not toward now,” Krupinski said.
"If you can do HIPAA-compliant [telehealth], obviously that’s where you want to be."
— Elizabeth Krupinski, PhD
Ultimately, telehealth presents an opportunity for clinicians to meet patients where they’re at—literally and from a consumer standpoint. That has meaningful clinical and interpersonal implications.
Wolf gave the example of the mutual convenience of her mother’s telehealth visits. She uses a wheelchair, and trips to the doctor can be disruptive and exchausing. Telehealth makes her well visits mutually convenient, Wolf said. Providers can conduct these visits from home as well.
“There were multiple conveniences for both sides of the spectrum, for both the clinical practitioner and the patient—the consumer,” she said.
To Krupinski, the telehealth transition represents an opportunity to transform care, if clinicians embrace it. A synthesis of consumerism and telehealth that embraces the patient experience and patient-generated data would be transformative, she said.
Just take the example of the hypothetical patient who was having cardiac distress.
"The healthcare system could potentially reach out to a prospective patient to avoid something from happening. But again, that’s a huge change in the model."
— Elizabeth Krupinski, PhD
What this means for you
Telehealth likely isn’t going anywhere, and neither is the consumerism that’s driving it. Rather than remaining a separate entity, the service may become just another tool in the kits of providers operating within a reshaped, consumer-oriented healthcare industry. Consider taking advantage of advanced telehealth training such as that offered in the programs mentioned in this article to enhance your skills.