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The Future of Telemedicine and the EHR

Healthcare no longer happens just in an exam room or hospital. Today patients can receive care from pretty much wherever they are located at the time using apps, portals, remote monitoring and video visits — all of which are types of telemedicine. HIMSS Analytics found that 72 percent of providers are now using telemedicine in some form. Telemedicine use has been increasing at a steady 3.5 percent each year starting in 2014, but grew 9 percent from 2016 to 2017.

In addition to more providers using telemedicine in the future, providers currently using one form of telemedicine are likely to add additional services. For example, a primary care physician who has successfully been using a patient portal for the past few years may begin offering e-visits or remote monitoring.

The role of EHR and telemedicine

One of the challenges with telemedicine for many providers has been figuring out how to integrate the new service model with the existing processes, especially in terms of patient data. With the traditional care model, all patient information — patient notes, tests, images — is generated by a provider. However, with telemedicine, health data is being generated by many different sources and must be collected in a central place, which for most providers is the Electronic Health Record (EHR).

With each new type of telemedicine offered, the process becomes more complex because the healthcare system now has data coming from new sources that must be included into the EHR. Practices not yet using an EHR are likely to have even more challenges with errors and lost paper documentation as the amount and sources of patient health data grows.

With many healthcare systems storing data in the cloud, many providers now need to access patient data from alternate locations, such as holding e-visits from a home office. The HIMSS Analytics study found that specialties that focus on counseling, such as psychiatry and pediatrics, were more likely to use telemedicine than general practice physicians. Since it is likely that some providers in psychiatry and pediatrics conduct telemedicine visits from a secondary location, this adds another wrinkle to making sure all patient data gets compiled in the EHR.

How using a DMS can help facilitate telemedicine

Although many providers now use EHRs for Patient Health Information (PHI), the efficiency gains have been widely debated. According to a study by the American Medical Association and University of Wisconsin, primary care physicians spend an average of 4.5 hours of an 11.4-hour workday on EHR tasks. Additionally, researchers found that the time spent on EHR administrative tasks contributes to a work/life imbalance, dissatisfaction, high rates of attrition and burnout rates exceeding 50 percent.

As telemedicine grows in adoption and types of services offered, it will be even more important for providers to reduce the amount of time physicians spend on EHR tasks. Many healthcare systems are now moving to a Document Management System (DMS), which is a digital system that assists in the creation, storage, transmission and security of electronic health records.

While using a DMS can increase efficiency for all types of patients, this is especially true for telemedicine. Because at least one party in a telemedicine appointment — and sometimes both — is located outside of the provider’s office or hospital, the confidentiality requirement for HIPAA is often mentioned as a concern for using telemedicine. However, the encryption, access control and authentications a DMS uses improves the confidentiality of data and can actually reduce HIPAA compliance issues.

Providers using DMS  solutions see many benefits outside of increased HIPAA compliance. Many providers see a cost savings when moving to EHRs because of task automation and decreased physical space required to store paper documentation. DMS automate many tasks, such as advanced workflow integration, which increases efficiency and means staff has more time to care for patients. Patients want providers who are responsive to their needs, and a DMS helps providers quickly find information they need to communicate with their patients.

Regardless if a provider is currently using an EHR or paper-based system, telemedicine makes the record keeping and data management problem even more complicated. By moving to a DMS, healthcare systems can make it easier to offer telemedicine services to better engage and treat their patients.