How telemedicine is transforming the health care industry in New Jersey

Telemedicine is transforming health care and is rapidly becoming a widely used tool within the industry.  Many individuals throughout New Jersey are opting to receive their health care in the comfort of their home, which is facilitated by telemedicine.  Contact Sena Health today to find out more about receiving patient-centric, hospital-level care in the comfort of your home.

By Susan Bloom

Among the many “new normal” practices that have evolved out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the health care industry’s growing use of telemedicine — the delivery of health-related services and information via electronic and telecommunication technologies.

While telemedicine platforms have been around for years, expanded regulatory freedom to use these modalities during the pandemic as well as greater access to coverage of and reimbursement for these services by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have led hospitals nationwide to rapidly shore up their telehealth capabilities — so much so that a recent report by research firm Arizton revealed that over three-quarters of U.S. hospitals are now connecting with patients remotely using video, audio, chat, e-mail and other technologies.

Following, representatives from three of New Jersey’s most prominent hospital systems discuss the benefits of telehealth and how the opportunity to connect virtually has transformed the health care industry.

The Case For Virtual Visits

According to Linda Reed, RN, vice president and CIO of St. Joseph’s Health in Paterson, which launched telehealth platforms through FaceTime, Google Duo, Cerner HealtheLife Portal, Amwell and Zoom for Healthcare this spring, “telehealth extends and expands access to health care for many; whether appointment-based or real-time visits, patients with mobility or timing issues can still get the care they need,” she said. “Patients who aren’t feeling well can be seen in their own homes, and the possibility of spreading or catching something from sitting in a waiting room is eliminated.”

“Telehealth creates a convenient way for patients to receive care without needing to leave home,” said Thomas Bader, MD, vice president of Medical Quality for Hackensack Meridian Health in Edison, which expanded access to its 24/7 on-demand urgent care ‘Convenient Care NOW’ telehealth platform this spring and also introduced a telehealth video visit solution for both primary care physicians and specialists within its Hackensack Meridian Medical Group. “Consumers are accustomed to high levels of convenience in all aspects of life — health care has been behind other service industries in providing this convenience.”

At RWJBarnabas Health, “telehealth makes it easy for doctors and patients to quickly connect, and it feels safer in the current COVID environment,” said Andy Anderson, MD, president and CEO of West Orange-based RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group, which has centered on the platform for its telehealth needs. “It’s also particularly good for gaining access to specialists, especially for patients in more remote areas, as well as for securing a quick second opinion and for checking in on patients who were recently released home from the hospital as part of a ‘transitions of care’ check-up,” he said.

Embracing A New Normal

In New Jersey, one of the hard-hit epicenters of the pandemic and a state where many residents still remain apprehensive about in-person health care visits, “both physicians and patients enthusiastically adopted telehealth,” Dr. Bader said. “Most physicians were new to telehealth, but more than 700 of our physicians ramped up video visits within a couple of weeks, and patients were very adaptive as well.”

At St. Joseph’s Health, “we promoted awareness of our telehealth capabilities through our internet page, advertising, patient communications and through the Passaic County testing program, but primarily through direct patient contact,” Reed said. “Our physicians converted many, and in some cases all, of their in-person appointments to telehealth visits and then proceeded to educate patients, families and caregivers on how to access these visits. While certain patients initially struggled with the technology,” she acknowledged, “our providers have noted that overall, the use of telehealth was a success with their patients and with them personally.”

At RWJBarnabas Health, telemedicine has been similarly well-received. “Prior to the pandemic, we used telemedicine as an urgent care/on-demand platform only,” explained Dr. Anderson. “During the peak of the pandemic, we were seeing about two-thirds of our patients via telemedicine and hosting 10,000 visits a week this way. The vast majority of our patients were very receptive to it because they were afraid of exposure to COVID,” he said. “Now that the peak is over and the state is reopening, patients still appreciate it as an option because they can do it from home, with no travel and less waiting.”

“In much of the research done on telehealth, patients have noted ‘convenience’ and ‘speed to care’ as the major positives for this technology,” Reed said. “Similarly, many physicians also highlight the convenience of the technology when patients need to be seen quickly or can’t get to the office.”

Continuity Of Care

Experts agree that while telemedicine is an outstanding capability, it’s not always the best option in all situations.

“You can’t take care of everything through a video visit, such as listening to a person’s heart, and in-person visits are also an important means of building physician-patient relationships and trust,” Dr. Anderson said. Reed agreed, noting that while the need to conduct physical assessments and measure vital signs is being addressed with new technologies such as portable instruments and wearable devices, “for some patients, nothing replaces the ‘high touch’ aspect of a face-to-face visit.”

“This was also a new experience for many patients, so another challenge of telehealth is connecting with patients with limited technical expertise or access,” Dr. Bader said.

Despite those difficulties, our experts believe that the benefits of telehealth are numerous and that the practice will be here to stay long after the dust settles on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Telehealth has created an opportunity for physicians to meet their patients’ needs in a new way,” Dr. Bader said. “Patients with prior difficulty getting to a physician’s office due to physical limitations or transportation issues really benefit from telehealth, and telehealth also supports the health care evolution towards ‘the right care at the right time in the right place.’ ”

“Now that patients realize they like the convenience of telehealth and providers have gotten past the technology learning curve and see that they can provide good care through this medium, I think we’ll continue to see increased use of telehealth going forward,” said Reed, who also believes that new home/remote monitoring tools, Bluetooth-enabled data gathering devices, wearable technologies and mobile apps will continue to add depth to the telehealth experience. “Virtual visits have been embraced and will be an expected part of health care offerings going forward.”

Dr. Anderson agreed that telehealth has transformed the health care industry. “While I think we would have gotten to this place eventually, COVID-19 forced us to get there faster, which is a good thing because telehealth should be an option we offer,” he contended. “For certain types of visits, it’s an easier, faster, more cost-effective and more efficient way to treat patients, and it represents a valuable tool in our toolkit that we’ll continue to use and balance with in-person visits.”

“Telehealth isn’t likely to fully replace in-person visits, but it serves as a terrific supplement, one that will remain a vital part of Hackensack Meridian Health’s total health care services moving forward,” Dr. Bader said. “I believe that patients will continue to embrace telehealth in the future and that, over time, telehealth won’t be viewed as something separate, but rather just a part of the health care continuum.”

Link to original article posted on October 29, 2020 | Jersey’s Best