Eagle’s leaders reflect on the past 12 months — and share what telemedicine trends they expect in the coming year.
Our healthcare heroes continue giving their best for COVID-19 patients. This pandemic battle is far from over, and its effects on hospitals have been daunting. Eagle’s TeleSpecialists have proudly supported our partner hospitals’ dedicated doctors, nurses and support teams on the front lines.
In this blog, Eagle’s leaders reflect on the past 12 months — and share what they expect lies ahead in the coming year. “2020 has been a breakout year for telemedicine,” said Dr. Mac McCormick, CEO, Eagle Telemedicine. “COVID-19 was a big driver in hospitals’ use of telemedicine this year. It’s been both a challenge and an opportunity to meet that demand.”
“In the year ahead, there will be great opportunity for growth in telemedicine,” said Jason Povio, President and Chief Operating Officer, Eagle Telemedicine. “We’re acting as consultants with hospitals, helping them figure out how telemedicine can improve their financial picture and serve their community’s needs. People are seeing the potential we bring to the table. It’s an exciting time.”
Both McCormick and Povio look forward to a new year, “fighting the good fight” to bring medical expertise to more Americans via telemedicine and shepherding a new breed of medical specialist — the TeleSpecialist, sharing their expertise from any global location.
Perspectives on Telemedicine Past, Present and Future:
Physician Acceptance is Key
During the past year, we’ve seen telemedicine gain acceptance among physicians, even those who got on board out of necessity. They learned that telemedicine was a valuable tool. Thousands of patients engaged in telemedicine visits with their providers, and we predict they will continue to demand the option for telehealth consults.
That’s probably the single most important impact, this change in perception, the proof that telemedicine is not only valuable, but a necessary tool in patient care. This technology will most assuredly be part of the picture going forward, even after the pandemic subsides.
The experiences of vast numbers of patients and physicians will help ensure that telemedicine continues as part of the healthcare paradigm. We expect this to be a fundamental change.
How can telemedicine improve care at your hospital?
New Standard of Care
Telemedicine has become ubiquitous, the new standard of service in all healthcare settings. Instead being a separate industry or a separate practice, it’s merged with traditional inpatient care. Onsite hospital teams have continued to embrace the support of new tools and technology, especially during the pandemic.
The most obvious telemedicine trend is that remote care has become the new norm, the new standard of service, in all healthcare settings. As of September, 5% of all private medical claims were from telehealth services — a 2,980% increase over 2019.
Instead of telemedicine being a separate industry or a separate practice, it’s merged with traditional in-person practice. Healthcare teams have learned to use the technology, the tools, through the 2020 experience.
Eagle has long provided hospitalist and nocturnist services. But, the need for excellent TeleSpecialists is growing exponentially. Medical specialists with telemedicine experience, knowledge and acumen will have plenty of opportunity to be successful. We see the applications in the healthcare industry as evolving, as planners see the potential in their facilities.
“We see the applications in the healthcare industry as evolving, as planners see the potential in their facilities. Eagle has facilitated interesting adaptations of telemedicine, on various scales, customized to meet the needs of specific communities. It’s an exciting time, helping facilities figure out what fits, and meeting each of these challenges,” said Povio.
COVID-19 & Complications
TeleSpecialist services like Infectious Disease (ID) and ICU telemedicine have been important in treating COVID-19 patients, including complications. Eagle has received an increased number of requests for Pulmonary and Cardiology TeleSpecialists to meet the demand and we’ve delivered.
“We expect to see new COVID treatment regimens as researchers learn more about the disease ― and Eagle TeleSpecialists are up to the task. The vaccine will certainly result in decreased patient numbers, but we expect that to happen gradually over the course of the year,” said Dr. McCormick.
Telemedicine Helps Hospitals Recover from Challenges
Many hospitals took a big financial hit during 2020. Due to volume restrictions, PPE availability, and the goal of reducing exposure for patients with non-emergent conditions, countless elective surgeries were unable to take place. Patients feared going into a hospital, especially for elective surgery, as family members couldn’t go with them. Elective surgery became a potentially scary, lonely option. Hospitals saw the volume of elective patients drop by 50 percent, leading to huge financial implications downstream.
Eagle helped many hospitals stay afloat during this time, providing nocturnist and specialist services, as a backup to local providers. Pediatric, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Neurology, Cardiology, Oncology and other specialties have been added to Eagle’s roster to bolster the hospitals’ portfolios.
Many hospitals are also finding their current patient load requires medical specialists to treat advanced diagnoses unrelated to COVID. Often, these are patients who were unable to receive or avoided healthcare screenings and medical treatments out of fear ― so their medical problems have escalated. These patients typically require more advanced care, therefore, they are more expensive to care for, often stay longer and require more advanced medical care.
Benefits of Telemedicine
Patient Retention: Telemedicine can reduce patient referrals, increase patient preference, and improve the overall quality of care.
Staffing Solutions: Telemedicine offers a solution to physician shortage and where onsite staff are struggling to maintain an appropriate level of patient care.
Specialist Access: Telemedicine allows patients to receive care when the hospital lacks a specialist, or if local specialist requires night or weekend coverage.
When telemedicine is used to treat these patients, they no longer require transport to a tertiary hospital. The hospital therefore retains this patient, who will certainly require follow-up services. For the hospital, “add-on” TeleSpecialist services help them to better serve their communities and resuscitates their financial bottom line.
“With each new specialty, we’ve identified expert medical specialists in each field and develop what we call webside manner – Eagle’s standard of providing high-level care remotely. These new specialists are operational, working with their on-the-ground colleagues, within just a few days of the request,” said Jason.
Brainstorming the Possibilities
Eagle’s leadership role in telemedicine has led to discussions to help healthcare facilities shore up their service lines in meeting community needs. When a hospital initiates an inquiry with Eagle, the emphasis is on discussing the hospital’s overall picture, to discern additional vulnerabilities in staffing.
Whereas the hospital may seek support only for ICU coverage, there might also be a clear need for specialty coverage, such as TelePulmonology or TeleCardiology, based on their transfer practices. They may need TeleSpecialist coverage part-time, often a “seven on/seven off” model to serve as backup support for their local specialists.
In one healthcare system, for example, Eagle provides half-day coverage in a clinic with multiple types of TeleSpecialists participating. This allows the local patients to get comprehensive medical expertise from providers who are available for appointments and emergencies, close to home. Eagle has the ability to consult with individual hospitalized patients, while also having windows of availability to perform on-the-spot consults for outpatients seeking care from their local clinic. It’s a real win-win for the hospital and the patients.
Another telemedicine trend we’ve seen is the use of virtual physicians in the urgent care and ambulatory sectors, during the pandemic. A new breed of ambulatory care centers is providing specialist services, which offers potential for telemedicine. Eagle is participating in these clinics, and this experience provides proof-of-concept that can be applied in many more rural and metro communities.
Homecare is another frontier for telemedicine, with diagnostic devices that patients can use at home. The cost of technology has come down, which will facilitate home diagnostics and monitoring. We believe remote provider/patient engagement via telemedicine is a perfect match for homecare, especially as a follow-up for hospitalized patients.
Regulatory Changes Pushed Acceptance
At the outset of the pandemic, telemedicine providers as well as hospitals benefited from relaxed billing rules set by The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Whether those billing rules will revert to pre-pandemic status remains unknown. But, we believe public demand will ensure long-lasting change.
With these billing changes, hospitals and physician clinics began providing telemedicine services as the billing was simplified. Patients and providers have come to embrace telemedicine; the sheer convenience has helped integrate virtual medicine into everyday life. We believe this acceptance to continue through 2021 ― and for the long-term.
However, a few hurdles remain. Not all regulations were not relaxed in 2020, one of which prevents highly qualified medical specialists from providing services remotely.
In the US, physician licensing is assigned by a state board. While a licensed provider can work in states beyond their state-of-residence, this isn’t the case for physicians who relocate abroad. We believe these regulations can easily be changed, and we will continue to advocate for these expat physician specialists.
Cybersecurity Will Take High Priority
Eagle predicts hospitals will give increased attention to cybersecurity in the upcoming year, as pertains to EMR/infomatic platforms, patient data, device connectivity, internet connectivity, alarm systems, heating/cooling systems ― every system within a hospital.
“There’s a potential dark side to this otherwise exciting scenario ― one that affects our society at many levels,” said Povio. “We’ve all witnessed security breaches in government and the business sectors, including healthcare. We don’t know that telemedicine will solve security problems, but certainly, security will be a focus at Eagle in 2021, more than ever before, as we ensure in our platforms that we protect every interaction.”
Telemedicine Trends: Ushering in a Paradigm Shift
We have truly witnessed an evolution transpire this past year, one that expands the horizon of possibilities when it comes to telemedicine.
Since the time of Hippocrates until the 20th century, healthcare performed with the physician and patient in the same room, whether the doctor went to the patient’s home ― or patient going to the physician’s office or the hospital. At each point, they were in the presence of each other.
“In the last 10 years have we seen all the elements come together, with remote video and broadband internet. With the COVID event, we have seen a cultural evolution to include telemedicine in traditional medical practice ― propelling acceptance 10x faster than we could have expected,” Povio said.
Eagle looks to the New Year optimistically, ready to meet whatever challenges arise. “It’s an exciting, rewarding time to bring healthcare services to many more Americans. We’re proud to be at the forefront of this frontier in telemedicine,” said Dr. McCormick.
Telemedicine has changed that paradigm. The concept and fundamental technology has been around a few years. But only in the last 10 years have we seen all the elements come together, with remote video and broadband internet. With the COVID event, we have seen a cultural evolution to include telemedicine in traditional medical practice ― propelling acceptance 10x faster than we could have expected.
Eagle looks to the new year optimistically, ready to meet the year’s challenges. It’s an exciting, rewarding time to bring healthcare services to many more Americans. We’re proud to be at the forefront of this frontier in telemedicine.