The COVID-19 epidemic has resulted in a surge in telehealth services in the United States. Along with that, the amount of data received and processed by hospitals and healthcare systems has increased dramatically.
All of this is putting pressure on many healthcare providers' data infrastructure. Hospitals certainly strive to stay current with technology in clinical settings. However, the industry isn't known to be innovative when it comes to technology to support business operations.
Kaushik Bhaumik, Ph.D., of Ernst & Young LLP, is the EY Americas leader for health technology.
Healthcare systems are integrating these touchpoints seamlessly into cloud systems, adding data analysts on staff, and ensuring system-wide interoperability, according to Bhaumik.
Bhaumik said EY has worked with a variety of healthcare systems to resolve these problems.
The increasing number of telehealth touchpoints is causing the demand for new data pressures. Think all types of patient data, health records, follow-ups, etc., said Bhaumik. All of these encounters must be captured through data into what is known as a longitudinal record to offer a more holistic perspective of the patient.
The impact of telehealth on data infrastructure
According to Bhaumik, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires hospitals and health facilities to make data infrastructure investments to increase interoperability.
- Creating a system for, and expanding the use of, electronic health records (EHRs).
- Implementing new cybersecurity measures.
- Hiring professionals who understand the intersection of information technology and healthcare.
Patient records were required to be able to be retrieved by the Obama administration. Healthcare providers needed information to understand what is relevant for a particular health episode in order to ensure the right doctor and diagnoses were made at the appropriate time, according to Bhaumik.
In the past, obtaining patient information from different specialists, pharmacies, insurance providers, etc. was a challenge. Now, with connected and interoperable EHRs, this process is much simpler, according to Bhaumik.
Telehealth services have exploded in numbers.
It's a good thing that the process is becoming more straightforward now. Since the epidemic's start, telehealth has increased dramatically. Some estimates predict a 63-fold increase. As evidence, reported telehealth visits increased from approximately 840,000 in 2019 to more than 52.7 million in 2020.
Today, most health systems continue to use robust telehealth services, whether through consultations or complete telemedicine visits.
According to Bhaumik, telehealth benefits both patients and providers. Since the early days of COVID-19, screening patients using video visits reduced the likelihood of in-office transmission. Today, with new coronavirus variants and the emerging monkeypox epidemic, telehealth continues to be a critical public health tool.
Telehealth services are also able to reduce travel expenses and wait times for patients. This makes for a more convenient option for accessing care from home. According to Bhaumik, telehealth has been shown to improve on-time visit starts by 95% and reduce patients wait times by 60%.
Telehealth was not as widespread before the epidemic, owing to government restrictions on transferring healthcare across state lines, according to Bhaumik. However, these restrictions have been suspended in recent years. If the government chooses to keep these new practices in place, it will guarantee long-term success of telehealth.
Some programs are already being phased out, including certain Medicare reimbursements, according to Bhaumik. Once policies expire and new regulations are implemented, the percentage of remote care is expected to be around 25% to 40%, according to the researcher.