After COVID-19 spurred a boom in telehealth, systems mull how to sustain momentum

Dive Brief:

  • Health systems rapidly scaled up their telehealth, artificial intelligence and revenue cycle programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, according a report from the Nokia-GE Healthcare-UPMC-backed Center for Connected Medicine and Klas Research. But their speedy implementation magnified opportunities for improvement many want to address in the coming year.
  • The survey of 117 executives representing 112 provider organizations found increasing interest and use in AI. Half of respondents said they now employ those applications for clinical decision support and management of beds and devices, among other uses.
  • Revenue cycle management is also a greater priority for systems and an area ripe for improvement, according to the fourth “Top of Mind for Top Health Systems” report. Systems said they plan to leverage AI for those programs and are optimistic innovation will happen in the coming year.

Dive Insight:

The pandemic catalyzed adoption of telehealth and other tech earlier this year when government shut-downs forced providers to overhaul their operations. Now, health systems are grappling with integrating the new technology for a future post-pandemic world.

Respondents who quickly adopted telehealth are looking to improve integration, infrastructure and security in 2021, focusing now on long-term telehealth decisions, according to the report.

But uncertainty persists around reimbursement as CMS looks to reel in some waivers put in place during the public health crisis.

Thirty-percent of respondents said they were unsure what their plans are if telehealth reimbursements return to pre-COVID levels, and 13% said they’d return to face-to-face visits.

Twenty-percent said they’d continue doing virtual visits regardless, while 17% said they’d analyze the financial viability of continued use.

“A lot of how much they’re going to invest in that technology is going to have to do with what those regulations end up looking like,” Jennifer Despain, director of market analysis with healthcare IT research firm Klas, said. “Because if you can’t make money doing the thing, you’re not going to spend a lot of money on it.”

Health systems also reported widespread adoption of AI tools to make use of their data, though shared concerns about future privacy and security regulations.

They’ve employed AI for clinical decision support, bed and device management, staffing and tracking ICD-10 codes to find at-risk patients.

Most systems rely on vendors rather than building their own AI capabilities, the report found, and half of respondents use less than 20% of their health systems’ data in their AI applications.

Looking ahead, providers said they want to leverage AI for their revenue cycle management. Respondents said they’re confident the technology can help solve issues with coding and billing or accounts receivable.

They’re less confident in AI’s abilities to aid with price transparency and ACO requirements for shared savings, according to the report.

Revenue cycle management has long been a struggle in healthcare, “but I think with the pandemic, that has definitely made getting revenue and keeping costs down for a lot of healthcare systems pretty difficult,” Despain said.

Respondents said in the coming year they plan to increase telehealth as a revenue stream, allow more employees to work remotely and use more technology to monitor revenue cycle data for decision-making.