The Stoltenberg Blog

Healthcare technology insights for competitive value-based care strategy

How Healthcare IT Support Keeps Telehealth a Viable Care Option–and Why it Matters

Telehealth technology is not new, but its overwhelming adoption as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic represents enormous change. What was initially considered a quick-fix, stop-gap solution during early lockdowns has since turned into a viable long-term care option. While patients appreciate the ability to access care from the safety and convenience of their homes, providers enjoy the efficiency of telehealth visits.

An analysis from McKinsey & Company reveals that telehealth volumes increased about 78-fold at the pandemic's onset. Although those volumes have stabilized, the McKinsey report notes that utilization has remained at levels 38 times higher than before COVID-19. A full 40% of those surveyed for the report said they plan to continue using telehealth–a number that's substantially higher than the 11% of people who had used it before 2020.

What this means is that telehealth solutions will never entirely revert to their pre-pandemic role. Indeed, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is permanently eliminating some of its former barriers to behavioral health virtual care, as well as evaluating whether to expand the list of other healthcare services it approves for telehealth reimbursement.

For hospitals and health systems, it's time to reevaluate telehealth platforms and virtual care strategies to uphold longstanding, sustainable benefits to revenue and patient engagement.

The role of IT support in virtual care platform longevity

Interestingly, another poll suggests that 72% of telehealth users attend virtual care appointments coordinated through their health system or health plan versus 17% who use direct-to-consumer telehealth services. The numbers speak to the trust patients have in their health systems. Still, the challenge now is to ensure that patients and providers are supported to optimize telehealth services and minimize expenses. Health systems that offer 24/7x365 clinically consultative IT support for both hospital telehealth end users and patients can help improve the onboarding experience with their patient portal and virtual visit solutions.

  • Facilitating the user onboarding experience- Providers need to be aware of the often-overlooked nuances of conducting a virtual visit versus an in-person appointment–such as virtually observing social determinants of health or providing patient-led physical exams. There's an entirely different level of knowledge transfer required to prepare for a telehealth visit that clinically consultative IT support agents can walk through with clinicians. Specialized agents who have an adept combination of technical expertise, EHR-specific certification, virtual observation mastery, and provider communication skills can effectively onboard clinicians to ensure best-practice telehealth utilization and efficiency.

    For patients who remain hesitant about telehealth, a more meaningful clinically consultative approach sets the right tone. This approach might involve taking the time to conduct a “practice visit” with non-tech-savvy patients, for instance, to work through any questions, knowledge gaps, or concerns before their first actual virtual care interaction. A clinically consultative telehealth support agent, whose service is more comprehensive than the usual password-related technical assistance, could go a long way toward reducing virtual visit no-shows and driving higher patient engagement.

  • Leading more effective telehealth platform implementations- More patient engagement also can result when experienced IT support analysts help smooth telehealth implementations from a technical perspective. Even from behind a computer, patients still expect empathetic and meaningful care interactions with their providers. The last thing patients or providers want in the middle of a virtual visit is a technical malfunction that diminishes feelings of patient-provider connectedness.

    An experienced IT support analyst can conduct simulated virtual care visits when implementing telehealth platforms across care groups or departments. In addition to providing feedback on clinician performance, this allows them to proactively anticipate and troubleshoot potential issues, thus minimizing glitches and frustrations.

  • IT support's impact on health systems and their providers- Providers benefit from seeing patients most efficiently and effectively. Where appropriate, virtual visits can help free up in-person visits for those patients who need them most. Moreover, telehealth helps providers reach some patients who otherwise might not have access to care, such as those who lack transportation or live in rural locations.

    All in all, health systems with a robust telehealth program can more easily expand their patient population reach while also re-engaging patients who have delayed care due to financial or COVID-19 exposure concerns. However, to truly optimize care delivery, telehealth platforms must be reinforced by reliable technical support. Already overburdened internal help desk staff can't be expected to absorb every telehealth inquiry without risking platform access or usage delays as tickets inevitably pile up.

Healthcare IT support: crucial to telehealth utilization's long-term success

In the time since the COVID-19 pandemic began, telehealth technology has emerged as an indispensable component of health systems' care delivery models. However, health systems must invest strategically in growth-generating telehealth resources and infrastructure. With knowledgeable IT support, hospitals and health systems can create a superior telehealth experience for providers and patients–which, in turn, can cultivate competitive advantage, provider and patient satisfaction, and better patient care adherence.


Stay tuned for additional virtual care strategy insights via the Stoltenberg blog.



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