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COVID-19 Telehealth Guide
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COVID-19 Telehealth Guide
Solidifying a Telehealth Strategy

Authored by: Adam Cherrington & Dan Czech May 6, 2020 | Read Time: 4  minutes

Use of telehealth technology, which until recently had been increasing at a gradual but steady pace, has sharply accelerated in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak. Relaxed privacy and reimbursement regulations have—at least temporarily—removed some significant barriers to providing this type of care, and with healthcare organizations looking to reduce face-to-face visits, many are either deploying telehealth technology for the first time or expanding their current offerings. This resource—the first of two COVID-19 focused telehealth reports—aims to provide high-level guidance helpful to organizations as they make immediate decisions and also solidify long-term telehealth strategies. It includes high-level overviews of validated vendors’ current customer satisfaction, key questions to consider in building a strategy, and a consolidated view of KLAS’ previously published telehealth reports.

What Are Healthcare Organizations Saying about Telehealth?

While KLAS hasn’t yet specifically solicited provider feedback regarding the pandemic’s impact on telehealth, the topic has naturally come up in recent conversations. Below are a few comments from healthcare provider respondents that represent the rapidly changing reality of telehealth.

customer commentary

"Telehealth has always been around, but there haven’t been any monster breakthroughs in its delivery or in how to chart things so they are accepted by payers. . . . Life has changed, and those changes are going to be the way of the future now."

—IT director, March 2020

customer commentary

"Due to the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth is going through the roof. We have a lot of things going on with virtual care. Our volumes went from less than 100 calls in February to thousands of calls in March. We doubled the March number in April."

—CIO, April 2020

customer commentary

"Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I wasn’t doing any video visits. I went from 0% to 90% of my clinical work being done over video. I think once we catch our breath, it will be interesting to evaluate what we have learned from this experience and how we can incorporate those learnings going forward so that we progress in our delivery of care."

—Executive director of primary care, April 2020

customer commentary

"I think the realization that is going to hit health systems is that there are a lot of things that can be done successfully remotely, and I think people are going to start to wonder why we need brick-and-mortar locations. Providers are going to have to get over the fact that they don’t necessarily want to do telehealth. Telehealth is just the way of the future, and it is going to be hard to turn back. This situation is a game changer, and the changes that come from it might be a silver lining to the whole thing. It took us a year and a half to convince our organization to launch video visits for 10 providers, and it took us a pandemic and a week to launch it for the entire organization."

—Chief product officer, April 2020

What Are Patients Saying about Telehealth?

A recently published KLAS report surveyed over 300 patients about the technology their healthcare providers use to engage patients in care. While telehealth was identified by only a few respondents as being an impactful technology at the time, it was the second most likely to be seen as having an impact in the future. Though this research predates the COVID-19 outbreak, its findings demonstrate that telehealth was on patients’ minds even before the current pandemic.

technology that patients would like to see focused on in the future

COVID-19 Breaks Down Barriers to Telehealth Adoption

Historically, significant industry barriers have hampered healthcare organizations’ ability to fully embrace telehealth. Below is a synopsis of those barriers and how the response to the COVID-19 outbreak has helped, at least temporarily, to remove them.

regulationRegulation
As of March 2020, OCR has relaxed regulations regarding provider/patient communication via private, non-HIPAA-compliant communication methods, such as Apple FaceTime, Skype, and others.

physician adoption Physician Adoption
As primary care physicians and specialists seek to maintain high patient volumes, many previously hesitant physicians have rapidly adopted virtual visits.

patient awareness Patient Awareness
Many organizations have released free or discounted telehealth services to encourage social distancing measures. Patient uptake has resulted in some organizations experiencing daily telehealth volumes that surpass previous annual volumes.

reimbursementReimbursement
As of March 2020, CMS has broadened access to reimbursements for common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive screenings. Many private insurers have followed suit.

costCost
As part of the CARES act, $185 million was allocated to support telehealth programs for rural healthcare facilities.
Additionally, $200 million was earmarked for the FCC to support healthcare providers via telecommunication services, information services, and devices necessary to enable telehealth services.

To learn more, download the full whitepaper.

What Are Healthcare Organizations Saying about Telehealth?

While KLAS hasn’t yet specifically solicited provider feedback regarding the pandemic’s impact on telehealth, the topic has naturally come up in recent conversations. Below are a few comments from healthcare provider respondents that represent the rapidly changing reality of telehealth.

customer commentary

"Telehealth has always been around, but there haven’t been any monster breakthroughs in its delivery or in how to chart things so they are accepted by payers. . . . Life has changed, and those changes are going to be the way of the future now."

—IT director, March 2020

customer commentary

"Due to the COVID-19 crisis, telehealth is going through the roof. We have a lot of things going on with virtual care. Our volumes went from less than 100 calls in February to thousands of calls in March. We doubled the March number in April."

—CIO, April 2020

customer commentary

"Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I wasn’t doing any video visits. I went from 0% to 90% of my clinical work being done over video. I think once we catch our breath, it will be interesting to evaluate what we have learned from this experience and how we can incorporate those learnings going forward so that we progress in our delivery of care."

—Executive director of primary care, April 2020

customer commentary

"I think the realization that is going to hit health systems is that there are a lot of things that can be done successfully remotely, and I think people are going to start to wonder why we need brick-and-mortar locations. Providers are going to have to get over the fact that they don’t necessarily want to do telehealth. Telehealth is just the way of the future, and it is going to be hard to turn back. This situation is a game changer, and the changes that come from it might be a silver lining to the whole thing. It took us a year and a half to convince our organization to launch video visits for 10 providers, and it took us a pandemic and a week to launch it for the entire organization."

—Chief product officer, April 2020

What Are Patients Saying about Telehealth?

A recently published KLAS report surveyed over 300 patients about the technology their healthcare providers use to engage patients in care. While telehealth was identified by only a few respondents as being an impactful technology at the time, it was the second most likely to be seen as having an impact in the future. Though this research predates the COVID-19 outbreak, its findings demonstrate that telehealth was on patients’ minds even before the current pandemic.

technology that patients would like to see focused on in the future

COVID-19 Breaks Down Barriers to Telehealth Adoption

Historically, significant industry barriers have hampered healthcare organizations’ ability to fully embrace telehealth. Below is a synopsis of those barriers and how the response to the COVID-19 outbreak has helped, at least temporarily, to remove them.

regulationRegulation
As of March 2020, OCR has relaxed regulations regarding provider/patient communication via private, non-HIPAA-compliant communication methods, such as Apple FaceTime, Skype, and others.

physician adoption Physician Adoption
As primary care physicians and specialists seek to maintain high patient volumes, many previously hesitant physicians have rapidly adopted virtual visits.

patient awareness Patient Awareness
Many organizations have released free or discounted telehealth services to encourage social distancing measures. Patient uptake has resulted in some organizations experiencing daily telehealth volumes that surpass previous annual volumes.

reimbursementReimbursement
As of March 2020, CMS has broadened access to reimbursements for common office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive screenings. Many private insurers have followed suit.

costCost
As part of the CARES act, $185 million was allocated to support telehealth programs for rural healthcare facilities.
Additionally, $200 million was earmarked for the FCC to support healthcare providers via telecommunication services, information services, and devices necessary to enable telehealth services.

To learn more, download the full whitepaper.

 Download Whitepaper

This material is copyrighted. Any organization gaining unauthorized access to this report will be liable to compensate KLAS for the full retail price. Please see the KLAS DATA USE POLICY for information regarding use of this report. © 2020 KLAS Research, LLC. All Rights Reserved. NOTE: Performance scores may change significantly when including newly interviewed provider organizations, especially when added to a smaller sample size like in emerging markets with a small number of live clients. The findings presented are not meant to be conclusive data for an entire client base.