The Stoltenberg Blog

Healthcare technology insights for competitive value-based care strategy

Navigating Regulatory and Mission Critical Change with IT Support

By Sheri Stoltenberg

Healthcare regulations have relaxed as government entities and commercial payers try to assist in the fight against COVID-19. As the virus continues to strain healthcare operations, temporary changes aimed at expanding clinical care capabilities have emerged—including letting providers work across state lines, providing more transparent reimbursement for telehealth services, and banning "surprise" billing.

To leverage those clinical care gains, however, hospitals and health systems need an agile and supportive IT infrastructure. The fast-moving adjustments are creating an influx of remote IT needs. Whether it is additional support services or new training programs, hospitals and health systems must have IT help desks and teams capable of supporting patients and providers—both during the crisis and long afterward as healthcare continues to evolve.

Here are a few ways IT help desks can help hospitals and health systems take advantage of the current regulatory shifts:

Telehealth systems and patient portal support

During the COVID-19 emergency, provider reimbursement coverage has spanned more than 80 new services via telehealth. The definition of telehealth, too, has expanded: Clinical visits and remote patient monitoring can now occur through both interactive audio/video apps and audio-only phone calls. When appropriate, physicians can also supervise their clinical staff using virtual technologies, since in-person supervision requirements have been suspended for the time being.

What hospitals and health systems must realize is that telehealth services impact more than just audio and video capabilities. It also adds new responsibility for patient portals. Ongoing patient portal support is essential for ensuring that digital care communication is accurate and effective. The significance of the patient portal amplifies during a health crisis. For some patients and their families, this may be the only communication channel with providers for months. May hospitals do not have the bandwidth to take technical or educational support tickets from patients during this chaotic time, so third-party help desk support partners can step in quickly to relieve this strain.

All of these changes require IT departments to be skilled not only at setting up remote access but also at delivering remote support to end users who have a wide range of technology experience and comfort zones. 100% virtual training solutions for providers and other end users offer a way to help ease the transition for everyone, and get them up and running with minimal downtime.

Remote patient care

Regulators have loosened the strict definitions that typically limit where providers can offer clinical services. Non-hospital buildings and spaces have been used for patient care and quarantine—including ambulatory surgery centers, inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, hotels, and dormitories. IT teams are stepping up to make sure the facilities are securely added into health systems' IT infrastructures with full EHR access, while leading data collection efforts with infectious disease leaders to coordinate data to the CDC, state health officials and any regional or state COVID-19 dashboards.

The utilization of remote patient monitoring (RPM) programs for COVID-19 positive patients has also been a key development for overburdened health systems. IT teams work behind the scenes to build and maintain infrastructure and system workflow to support efficient triage and documentation processes for patient progress and care plans with remote care.

Even beyond COVID-19 patients, remote patient monitoring has finally had its push mainstream due to both patient and physician habit adjustment. As Forbes recently noted, with reimbursement changes, along with broader patient usage and normalization from big tech vendors like Apple and Samsung, physicians are finally more widely utilizing patient-device collected data for care decision making. The CMS 2021 Physician Fee Schedule has been amended to clarify that providers can be reimbursed for remote patient monitoring using CPT codes 99457 and 99458. The RPM must consist of at least 20 minutes of interactive patient-provider communication in a calendar month to qualify for reimbursement. With that, IT teams are needed for integration support but also to aid with proper RPM coding alignment and documentation of patient outcomes to maximize value-based reimbursement opportunities.

Changing workforce

For the duration of the emergency, hospitals on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic can quickly hire physicians, nurses, and other community providers—even those from other states—without the usual paperwork hurdles. IT departments must be able to train the newcomers on all hospital applications, while simultaneously supporting remote providers and the patient portal, and enable remote access to clinical records and databases on a secure network. Using an IT partner with flexible staffing capabilities can assist organizations in volatile times to ebb and flow with staff shrinkage and growth without hindering workflows. The shift to work from home is likely permanent for many health system workforces, requiring reliable IT infrastructure for telehealth support, but also remote access for operational continuity.

Simplicity and reliable support are key

The goal of all of these changes is to give hospitals and health systems the ability to care for an influx of patients, including through usage of non-traditional care sites, and staffing them quickly. Without the proper IT supports in place, however, healthcare organizations may find that they face additional challenges at a time when simplicity matters most.

For maximum community responsiveness, hospitals and health systems should consider some of the other ways IT help desk staff can assist the care process. These might include:

  • Scheduling appointments and handling patient inquiries for COVID-19 vaccinations. This requires staff bandwidth and knowledge of how to manage and interact with patients and the patient portal, aiding with portal support of pre and post vaccination questionnaire completion, as well as updating contact preferences for vaccine scheduling alerts and second dosage reminders for patient outreach.
  • Protecting against cybersecurity threats. Cybersecurity takes on added importance during emergency situations as external entities attempt to take advantage of both hospital and end-user vulnerabilities. With an onslaught of threats targeting healthcare like Ryuk ransomware, some help desk support teams have added on responsibilities to monitor, log and immediately alert cybersecurity teams if end-user tickets signal suspicious activity and security concerns.
  • Centralizing support. By leveraging a command center, healthcare organizations can efficiently track patients and staff, enable secure messaging, and provide critical updates regarding the organization, patient care and the community.
  • Evaluating overarching trends. Using real time smart analytics dashboards and reports to track specific data elements can help hospitals and health systems view overarching care trends for informed decisions. This isn't limited to clinical care decision making. In fact, data analytics insights weaved into help desk support quickly identifies ticket issue trends to pinpoint common end-user errors or workflow delays to streamline resolution during crisis response.

Payers and regulators across the board are loosening regulations temporarily so that providers can better care for patients during the current pandemic. This opens new opportunities for hospital IT help desks to support our clinical teams. With the urgent need to cope with COVID-19, skilled IT help desks and infrastructure are essential for enabling hospitals and health systems to maximize all the potential benefits of relaxed regulation and help health systems keep operational support costs down in this next phase of the pandemic.

To remain up-to-date on the latest healthcare and health IT industry changes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, check back to the Mission Critical Change Resource Center.