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Telehealth, also called telemedicine, refers to the provision of healthcare services remotely through telehealth software. This is when a patient and provider interact through video or audio conferencing and allows a healthcare provider to care for patients without an in-person office visit. Telemedicine seemed to reach a peak in 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic. Many patients could not be seen by doctors in-person due to quarantines, office limits, and other barriers. However, the patients were still in need of care. To solve this problem, many healthcare providers turned to telemedicine software.
Telemedicine software is a vital platform that enables healthcare providers to give care to patients remotely. Some telemedicine software examples include PracticeSuite, Mend, TeleDoc, Klara, and more. Many of these are telehealth platforms for mental health specifically, such as TalkSpace, BetterHelp, and MDLive. One of the largest healthcare providers in the U.S, Kaiser Permanente, reported that prior to the pandemic telehealth represented less than 1% of outpatient care appointments. However, during the peak of the pandemic, telehealth represented 40% of outpatient visits for mental health and substance use and 11% of other visits. Since pandemic-era restrictions have been lifted, the use of telehealth for outpatient mental health and substance use care has only dropped to 36%. As Kaiser is one of the largest healthcare providers in the nation, that 36% still represents hundreds of thousands of people.
Healthcare providers that do not support telehealth in their own practices are missing out on a wide variety of populations. The Rural Health Information Hub reports that the following populations may have the most to benefit from telehealth software:
- People with disabilities
- Many people with disabilities, especially those in a rural area, struggle with mobility and access to in-person healthcare services. Telehealth alleviates the need for transportation and mobility aids for transportation and allows a patient to receive care in their own home.
- People with mental health conditions and substance use disorders
- As previously stated, one of the largest use cases for telehealth at Kaiser Permanente was providing care to patients with mental health conditions and substance use disorders. Patients with limited access to mental health professionals in their location are able to use telehealth to reach experts that are located elsewhere.
- Incarcerated people
- A study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that healthcare providers in 28 states use telehealth to provide care to patients who are incarcerated, particularly for telepsychiatry, cardiology, orthopedics, and oncology.
Many other populations of people also have a lot to gain from telehealth access – a lot to lose due to the lack of it.
What Is Telehealth Software?
What is telehealth software, exactly? While some may recognize a telehealth provider from their platform name, such as BetterHelp, telehealth software is actually the machine behind the scenes that makes all of that platforming possible. Many healthcare providers that primarily provide in-person services use a telehealth software that is built into their practice management system, such as PracticeSuite. An all-in-one solution like PracticeSuite allows healthcare providers to participate in whatever kind of care their patient would find most useful – including telemedicine.
On that note – what is telemedicine software? Telemedicine and telehealth are two terms that are often used interchangeably, however, there is a distinction between the two. The Federal Communications Commission defines telemedicine as “technologies to support the delivery of all kinds of medical, diagnostic, and treatment-related services usually performed by doctors.” They also define telehealth as “similar to telemedicine but includes a wider variety of remote healthcare services beyond the doctor-patient relationship. It often involves services provided by nurses, pharmacists, or social workers, for example, who help with patient health education, social support, medication adherence, and troubleshooting health issues for patients and their caregivers.”
Another way to think of it is this – telemedicine describes services that would only happen in a clinical capacity. Telehealth includes all of that and more. In other words – you could be prescribed medication over telehealth, but not telemedicine. Both kinds of services and software have their own use cases that will vary by provider.
A 2021 study published in the Journal for Nurse Practitioners reported that telemedicine services have the potential to reduce American healthcare spending by decreasing issues such as medication misuse, unnecessary emergency room visits, and prolonged hospitalizations. Thanks to telehealth, patients can be dismissed earlier and monitored digitally rather than continuously staying in the hospital. The study also found that telehealth provides increased access to resources and care for patients in rural areas and improves provider efficiency without higher net costs overall.
Telehealth software can also reduce patient travel and wait times without a reduction in quality of care – and can actually improve the quality of care. Telehealth can provide better access to care, less stress, and a reduction in costs overall – which greatly impacts patient satisfaction.
All of that said, the implementation and use of telehealth and telemedicine is not without its challenges for patients and providers alike. Some patients struggle with digital literacy and internet access, making telehealth a struggle. It can also be difficult for providers to find a platform that provides them with all of the tools and resources they need to make offering telehealth cost-effective and efficient. The best telemedicine platforms for physicians should include video chat as well as video and audio conferencing. It must also be HIPAA compliant and digitally secure, keeping patient and provider information safe from cyber-attacks. Ideally, the best telemedicine platform will seamlessly integrate with other healthcare software, if not come in an all-in-one solution, as PracticeSuite does.
Telemedicine Platform For Doctors
A general telemedicine platform for doctors can be used in many different healthcare settings and use cases. However, there are benefits to specific telehealth software for therapists or other specific kinds of healthcare providers. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has reported that over half of counties in the United States do not have access to local psychiatrists, and even areas that have mental healthcare providers may not be adequately meeting the need. This is exacerbated by a lack of mental health services for those in rural areas, who must travel to other healthcare providers to receive care. This can cause lengthy wait times for appointments and a scheduling nightmare for providers and healthcare workers alike.
Telehealth software used for mental health conditions may actually provide a better experience than traditional therapy sessions. It can also eliminate the barriers of necessary transportation and decrease “no-show” appointments, resulting in a stronger continuity of care. Telehealth can also increase access to specific healthcare providers that provide culturally competent and clinically specific clinicians for underserved populations. Medicare coverage for telehealth was expanded during the pandemic era and many services will continue to be covered through 2024, which encourages both patients and providers to take advantage of telehealth.
However, when selecting a telehealth platform, it’s important to choose one that is HIPAA-compliant and digitally secure. The best teletherapy platform for therapists is going to offer scheduling support, patient education, a way for patients to reach therapists outside of office hours and other administrative support tasks that make running a therapy practice easier. HIPAA compliant telehealth platforms for behavioral health may include software such as Zoom Telehealth and Skype for Business – however, telehealth software is best used as a tool within a fully developed platform that includes patient access to EHR, appointment scheduling, symptom reporting, medication management, and more.
Telehealth Platforms For Providers
While there are many different kinds of telemedicine software companies out there, it’s important to note that not all software provides the same features and functionalities. For example, some merely provide video and audio chat or conferencing – which means that all the administrative tasks such as electronic health records/EHR, documentation, reporting, etc., are all the burden of the physician to enter into a separate health software system.
The best telemedicine platforms for physicians should be fully integrated into an existing practice management software suite if it does not replace it outright. PracticeSuite offers a fully integrated solution that can be mixed and matched to create a bespoke suite of products that fully serves all of a healthcare provider’s needs. Telehealth platforms for providers should supply all of the tools and resources necessary to give excellent patient-centered care to individuals seeking treatment.
Using a mishmash of different software systems can cause a disjointed experience for patients and healthcare workers. Disjointed software systems can lead to information siloing and prevent a healthcare team from collaborating properly. This can lead to mistakes, and errors ranging from simple to grave. Patients can also tell when administrative processes are not working as they should, because it often results in a lack of information, lack of access to their EHR, increased wait times, and decreased communication. This goes against the standards for patient-centered care and can decrease patient satisfaction as well as provider revenue.
While arguments can be made for hyper specific telehealth software, the best telehealth software should be able to be used in all healthcare settings. Physicians, therapists, pharmacists, and other types of healthcare professionals should be able to use the best software to the fullest extent without any loss of information, productivity, effectiveness, or efficiency. PracticeSuite offers a robust and comprehensive telehealth platform for healthcare providers that includes:
- Phone consulting
- Secure video chat
- Concierge billing and revenue cycle management services
- Documentation capabilities on any device
- Safe two-way chat for patients and staff
PracticeSuite’s telehealth platform is a fully integrated and end-to-end cloud-based EHR/EMR system. Its receipt and documentation of communication between patients and staff make it simple to import to an EHR and cover all bases in case of an audit.
PracticeSuite’s comprehensive offering also includes EHR software, Practice Management, Revenue Cycle Management, Patient Engagement Portals, and more. The best telemedicine software has every tool necessary to run a healthcare practice and provide exceptional care to patients.