Telemedicine is Inevitable and With the Application of Customer Experience to Patient Experience, Contact Center Expertise Will Drive Successful Outcomes
April 2020
By Sean Erickson

Rising healthcare costs and the growing need for access to affordable health care are driving Americans to telemedicine. The convenience, efficiency, and affordability of this care model are becoming appealing options for both patients, hospitals, private practices and insurance providers.

With the advent of COVID-19, and a surge in volume related to the epidemic in the U.S., over the last month, the adoption of telemedicine has skyrocketed for natural reasons, from efficiency to urgency (given the requirement for social distancing to slow the spread of the virus).

The COVID-19 response will build on an already growing use of telemedicine services. For example, adoption grew from an estimated 250,000 patients in 2013 to an estimated 3.2 million patients in 2018.

Earlier this year, Fortune Business Insights forecast the Global Telemedicine will rise at an astounding 23.5% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) and reach over $186 billion by 2025, compared to 2018, when the market was valued at $34 billion.

Contact Center technologies and approaches are ideal for those wishing to build intelligent and operationally excellent telemedicine businesses, as those who “answer the call” (health navigators, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, specialists and more) can be empowered with the same solutions already proven to be effective (knowledgebase, routing, personalization, adherence to regulatory requirements, and so forth).

Any Telemedicine Contact Center will need to excel in ensuring patient information is handled properly, and contact center success stories in the areas of e-Commerce, banking, insurance, payments and other markets where credit cards are used already understand the importance of protecting patient data given their experience and certifications associated with other regulated industries.

It’s been over twenty years since the U.S. Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Five years ago, the Omnibus Rule went into effect, and since then any service provider directly or indirectly processing, storing, or handling patient health information (PHI) must adhere to the standards and policies legislated through HIPAA.

In the case of digital healthcare and protecting citizens’ private information, the Congress was ahead of the curve, envisioning a day when most healthcare will not only be managed online (with insurance claims and so forth) but delivered online (with the growth of telehealth and telemedicine).

Recent surveys taken before the outbreak also confirm that 74 percent of U.S. consumers would use telehealth services, 70 percent are comfortable communicating with healthcare providers online, and 80 percent have no qualms about submitting their medical information online.

In other words, telemedicine and telemedicine Contact Centers are poised to grow exponentially, accelerated by the urgent need to provide care in new ways given the latest global health crisis.

With the rapid evolution of the health care industry, health care delivery organizations – whether medical clinics, hospitals, or insurance companies – are constantly looking for innovative solutions to meet economic and operational challenges.

Telemedicine – using high-quality, real-time video encounters between patients and provider over the Internet – is a powerful tool that can support healthier patients and bottom lines.

Telemedicine aims to provide care anytime, anywhere, on any type of device—be it a web browser, a mobile phone or tablet, or a kiosk. When telemedicine is integrated into an existing health care system, patients have access to on-demand care securely from quality providers with a simple point and click.

The result? Fewer logistics, less traveling, avoidance of wait times, and reduction of expensive urgent care visits.

Given this transformative technology, a patient’s location and mobility does not limit the scope or quality care. The need to travel to a physical facility is no longer an assumed requirement or a barrier to the provider or patient.

Enlightened companies, including pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, are opening up not just their “minute clinics” and making basic services like vaccinations available, but are also starting to use telemedicine within their retail stores so patients can visit with a doctor who is hundreds, or thousands of miles away, including specialists, at their favorite pharmacy.

These retailers are investing in infrastructure and software which deliver extensive telehealth platforms, with on-calls specialists who can be brought in for specific needs, including initial diagnoses of certain conditions.

Powered by the convenience, ease, and affordability of telehealth, providers and patients are no longer be burdened by office hours, or the longstanding paradigm that patients bear the responsibility of physically traveling to the care they require.

Retail telehealth solutions support both patients and caregivers as they navigate the modern-day health care landscape together and create new revenue streams for retail pharmacies.

Here are a few examples.

Walgreens today is charging $49 per visit, offering “Next time skip the waiting room. Video chat with a U.S. board-certified physician who can treat common illnesses like sinus and ear infections, sore throats, and skin problems, 24/7. Doctors can even write prescriptions, if necessary.” Their “MDLive” platform also helps patients connect with live doctors on their phone, online through video chat – even in their homes.

New mergers in the healthcare space, including the $69 billion Aetna and CVS merger, are poised to give telemedicine a huge boost, according to an analysis by CNBC health and technology reporter Christina Farr. Although telemedicine has been around for nearly 10 years, it has yet to become a household name among consumers. But through partnerships with tech giants, prominent healthcare namesakes are helping it gain recognition, Ms. Farr argues.

All providers of healthcare are wise to take notice and are planning and rolling out their own solutions – healthier for all in the circle of care.

For contact centers, this means every verified name, address, social security number, diagnosis code, provider’s name, and any other PHI data must be securely handled, whether in a recorded phone call, in a forwarded email chain, or in an appointment reminder text message. Understanding the relationship between HIPAA compliance and the contact center is essential to protecting patients and contributing to the overall patient experience.

PHI data is extremely valuable and a target for cyber criminals.

According to some security experts an electronic health record (EHR) is worth 10x a U.S. credit card number on the black market.

Why is it worth so much? Hackers can use the records to create fake IDs, enabling them to buy medical equipment or drugs. Alternatively, they can use the patient data to file fake claims with insurance companies. Healthcare is expensive, and cyber criminals are taking advantage.

Additionally, if a credit card goes missing, a consumer can cancel it. If their social security number is misused, they can change it. But EHR are understood as a permanent representation of one’s identity.

HIPAA is the set of standards and protocols any service provider must follow when handling PHI. In the contact center, there are many ways PHI data may be shared, which makes it a huge challenge to oversee.

Contact centers at the forefront of this trend are already handle billing, collections, communications, insurance, ambulatory services, appointment scheduling, and much more. Contact centers that fall into any of these categories must ensure they are HIPAA compliant.

Healthcare contact centers are required by law to monitor and remediate their networks to ensure continued compliance, and to provide all records of conversations, which are expanding beyond what we imagined a few years ago. This includes the support of omnichannel strategies. Text messages, phone conversations, email messages, voicemails and every other channel type are covered under HIPAA.

Given growth, scale and the opportunity to serve more people for less money, now is the time for contact centers in the healthcare realm to move to the next level.

Eventus is already serving many healthcare and health insurance clients, and we’re gearing up to help even more at this uncertain time, to help address the current emergency but to also build sustainable virtual health platforms that may eventually become the most standard way to at least begin delivering care.

Let’s engage and share ideas. Through meaningful partnership, integration and collaboration, not only can we solve for protecting individuals, healthcare providers, insurers and others who are part of a “circle of care” – we also contribute to more access to care for so many millions more who are not able to afford traditional services.

As more platforms are established – platforms that can scale – the world will be better prepared for future epidemics and pandemics, while also improving day-to-day services, lowering costs, extending lives, and paving the way for future generations of digital natives.

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