Health Technologies

ATA2023: The ‘Job Is Not Done’ with Making Telehealth an Integral Part of Care Delivery

ATA Surveys the Current Telehealth Landscape and What’s Next

ATA Board Chair Kristi Henderson, who is also CEO of MedExpress and senior vice president of the Optum Center for Digital Health, delivered the first keynote address of the conference.

Henderson said the stories she shared during a TEDx talk in 2014 — from connecting a patient to a specialist for necessary chronic disease management to supporting a rural hospital — are still relevant today, yet it’s frustrating that in 2023 the conversation feels stagnant.

“Why is that we have digital health tools and we can make things simpler, but we’re going backward?” she asked.

With too many U.S. patients still putting off care and waiting too long to meet a primary care physician or a specialist, Henderson said telehealth needs to move beyond single solutions and become a fully integrated system.

American Telemedicine Association CEO Ann Mond Johnson (left) and ATA Board Chair Kristi Henderson deliver opening remarks on the first day of the 2023 conference.

“We’ve really dressed it up, because we have some great point solutions here and there, but we haven’t done the next level of work to make omnichannel come to life. We’ve got to dig in there and change the operating model,” she said.

“It’s now no longer about, ‘Let’s try to create the technology and implement it.’ It’s now about integrating it and making our operating model work right. It’s about changing policies, allotting incentives. This next level is really going to be a lot harder.”

Henderson emphasized the importance of a seamless and frictionless telehealth experience for clinical teams and patients, and that a hybrid model should optimize both physical and digital encounters: “If we don’t work on this operating model and the workflows, I really think we’re going to continue to gravitate back to the physical world.”

For example, are there clear guidelines for the front office to suggest a virtual visit first to a patient? Are there integrations for scheduling and patient intake documents? How can providers make sure processes flow together?

ATA Board Chair Kristi Henderson delivers a keynote address on the next level of virtual care integration on March 4 in San Antonio.

“Omnichannel is not about forcing people to do digital; it’s about building trust and getting people options based on their needs and desires,” Henderson said. “But just think about, maybe one day, we could have that logic built in, with care started as an asynchronous digital encounter with input coming from remote devices.”

If a need isn’t resolved during that time, then the next step would be a synchronous virtual visit with digital tools, and should further escalation be needed, that patient would receive in-person care at a clinic or their workplace.

“We need to be able to show that a digitally enabled system of care has better outcomes, engagement, experience and lower cost when compared with a care delivery organization that doesn’t optimize the tools,” she said. “If we don’t demonstrate the real value, we’re going to falsely judge technology and products as the reason it failed, when in fact it may be that it wasn’t implemented and integrated in the right way.”

EXPLORE: How virtual reality helps healthcare students experience clinical scenarios.

Microsoft and Google Reflect on Healthcare’s Transformation

A panel discussion that followed with leaders from Microsoft and Google began with, of course, ChatGPT and the role of artificial intelligence in healthcare.

Both Kim Swafford, a health industry executive at Microsoft, and Bakul Patel, senior director of global digital health strategy and regulatory at Google, insisted that AI tools need to be paired with human practitioners. Swafford said that AI-enabled technology and a person trained in AI work better together. Patel called AI an “augmenting technology as opposed to a replacing technology.”

As a start, ChatGPT has the potential to improve telehealth delivery by helping with triage, improving patient digital access and aiding clinicians with administrative tasks, Swafford said.

Discussing healthcare’s growth and telehealth’s future, from left to right: Moderator Eugene Borukhovich, Chairman and Founding Board Member, YourCoach.Health; Bakul Patel, Senior Director of Global Digital Health Strategy and Regulatory, Google; and Kim Swafford, Health Industry Executive, Microsoft.

That support will be critical, especially as healthcare faces a workforce shortage. Twenty years ago, when she worked at a tele-ICU company, Swafford said, providers were wary of cameras being installed in rooms as part of the remote support, going so far as to cover the cameras with towels. “Now, it struck me last week, I was at a meeting at a large health system, and the physicians and the nurses were asking for a remote care team for telenursing — expanding tele-ICU services. So, we have come a long way,” she said, noting the change in mindset along with improvements in technology.

So, what will the next thirty years of telehealth bring? “Today’s telemedicine will not be tomorrow’s,” Patel said, predicting that more smart technologies will emerge to provide continuous health insights.

LEARN MORE: 4 technologies to improve staff experiences in post-acute and senior care.

Risks Facing Healthcare Systems in the Current Telehealth Landscape

Though virtual care services saw explosive growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, they also, unfortunately, opened the floodgates for malicious actors and fraudulent practices.

Express Scripts Fraud Advisor Jeff Jasso discussed the overprescribing of certain medications through telemedicine that has put the service under federal scrutiny.

Jennifer Schoenthal, miscellaneous healthcare underwriter at specialist insurer Beazley, echoed the warning and stressed the uncertain waters traditional healthcare providers are wading into as they enter the digital health realm.

Panelists discuss the challenges of handling fraud in the digital health space. From left to right: Moderator Elliott Wilson, Chief Virtual Care Strategist, CDW Healthcare; Jeff Jasso, Fraud Advisor, Express Scripts; and Jennifer Schoenthal, Miscellaneous Healthcare Underwriter, Beazley.

“Try not to do this on your own. The system is very confusing, and it’s impossible to navigate it by yourself. You need a partner,” she said.

That’s especially important when challenges arise as tech failures and cybersecurity risks continue to grow. Who’s responsible when a medical device that was supposed to alert a caregiver to a patient’s condition fails and that patient’s health is seriously affected? How should compliance programs evolve in the face of telemedicine services?

“I know that everybody thinks that they are either a healthcare company or a tech company, but the bottom line is that you’re both,” Schoenthal said.

Keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing coverage of ATA2023. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation at #ATA2023.



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