Watch: Driving Telehealth Innovation With Communications APIs

As recently as October 2019, the main health IT focus for most providers was determining how to best transition from an on-premises environment to a cloud-based solution that would reduce costs. By April, everything changed. With a global pandemic in full swing, the widespread closures of healthcare facilities sparked a rapid rise in telehealth applications fueled by communications APIs—and there’s no turning back.

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How Doxy.me and SimplePractice Leveraged Secure and Scalable Telehealth Applications to Deliver Real-Time Care

As recently as October 2019, the main health IT focus for most providers was determining how to best transition from an on-premises environment to a cloud-based solution that would reduce costs. By April, everything changed. With a global pandemic in full swing, the widespread closures of healthcare facilities sparked a rapid rise in telehealth applications fueled by communications APIs—and there’s no turning back.

The industry consensus is that the sequence of events spanning the past six months has forged the path for a “new normal” that will drive different decision making, as doctors and healthcare practitioners rethink how they engage with patients.

The Doctor Will See You Now (From Anywhere)

The public health crisis has accelerated both the adoption and acceptance of remote telehealth technologies that previously occupied the healthcare industry’s periphery. A number of driving forces are converging in its favor, making telehealth not only an acceptable channel, but also the preferred way for patients to interact with their doctors through any number of means, including video, voice, and messaging. 

Key to the channel’s growing role is the fact that more and more insurers are continuing to expand reimbursement for telehealth services and reimbursing more for telemedicine appointments—a trend that is expected to continue. For those providers deemed “nonessential” and closed for business, telehealth technology delivers a means for expanding the services they provide not only today, but also after widespread lockdowns are fully lifted.

Non-COVID-related health concerns are driving telehealth adoption, as well. Extended closures and restricted access to caregivers has highlighted a critical need for mental health services, particularly among those forced to live in isolation for significant periods of time. Because this need for face-to-face interactions with mental health professionals is very important, telehealth is expected to play a more meaningful role in the provision of mental health services going forward.

And don’t underestimate the power of fear. Just as workspaces will be readapted to suit returning employees, brick-and-mortar doctors’ offices will be reconfigured to accommodate patients. What remains to be seen is whether patients will be comfortable going to medical facilities for consultations. Will someone who already has engaged a healthcare professional remotely risk unnecessary exposure to the virus when there’s a more convenient video option available? As we move into the winter months, and fear of a second wave comes into play, the overwhelming likelihood is that the full-on arrival of telehealth marks a permanent shift in patient behavior that healthcare providers will need to address.

Recent projections from Forrester Research put virtual healthcare interactions on pace to top 1 billion by year’s end. Not surprisingly, as cited in Vonage’s Video Trends Report, telehealth providers saw a 2,300% increase in healthcare video minutes between February and April 2020.

At the forefront of this monumental shift are API-driven video solutions. While over-the-top video offerings provide one way for staff to collaborate face-to-face, it’s the use of video APIs to create embedded telehealth experiences and applications that are empowering the industry at the point of care. Scalable and more secure than solutions requiring plug-ins, video APIs are fueling rapid innovation. 

For example, the Vonage Video API uses WebRTC as the underlying video transmission. WebRTC is a free, open-source project that provides web browsers and mobile applications with real-time communication via simple APIs. Since plug-ins are not required, as they would be with other video solutions, utilizing WebRTC-based video APIs removes that security risk to patients and practitioners alike. And because it’s a browser-based solution, all of the automatic updates and security patches are applied via the browsers, such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox or Edge.

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Reimagining Healthcare
Your guide to the world of healthcare reimagined with digital communications.

Security is the Prescription for Wider Telehealth Adoption

One key advantage video API-driven solutions offer providers is the ability to address any security holes detected within their environments and deploy patches quickly and automatically without having to opt in. These solutions also require browsers to indicate which microphone or webcam is in use, eliminating the risk of eavesdropping. And with WebRTC, all connections are established over a secure connection. All WebRTC applications must be HTTPS compliant, further reducing any risk in telehealth calls.

While telehealth is slowly starting to become ubiquitous in healthcare, many providers and practitioners wonder if it will truly be the preferred method for patients who demand high-levels of satisfaction. The answer, based on input from industry experts speaking at a recent panel discussion, is a resounding “yes.”

“The experience has been overwhelmingly positive from both clinician professionals and their clients and patients,” said Howard Spector, Founder and CEO of Simple Practice, a video chat solution.

 

Driving Telehealth Innovation with Communications APIs

Telemedicine in action

In January, SimplePractice, a fully HIPAA compliant, front-desk telehealth application used by over 60,000 doctors’ offices, clinics, and health practices, had about 5 million telehealth minutes running through its platform. By April, the number of minutes grew to 145 million, an increase Spector credited to clients and patients who appreciate the continuity of care extended remotely by therapists and other healthcare professionals.

Interestingly, SimplePractice only built telehealth functionality into its product because Spector said he felt it might be needed at some point down the road. But, because the company leveraged cloud-based communications APIs as part of its solution, Spector was able to transition his business very quickly when the pandemic hit.

Another company that successfully leveraged video APIs to build an application that enables practitioners to provide remote care is Doxy.me. The browser-based telemedicine solution uses encrypted peer-to-peer audio and video to conduct HIPAA-compliant calls directly between providers and their patients. Patients remain anonymous to Doxy.me because the company doesn’t collect or store any protected health information, and any data transmitted during a call is permanently destroyed when the call ends. Providers can sign up, get a free telemedicine account, and have a signed business associate agreement in about a minute. Informed consent is signed via an embedded solution called Teleconsent.

Founder and CEO Brandon Welch developed Doxy.me as a doctoral student while working on a project that called for providing prenatal care to women at home. Frustrated by the dearth of affordable, HIPAA-compliant options, Welch built and launched his free telemedicine application, which today is supported by premium and professional versions that feature additional functionalities requested by providers.

Although Doxy.me had been experiencing solid growth since its inception, demand for the video API-driven solution exploded when the pandemic hit, sending the number of healthcare providers using the app from 80,000 pre-COVID to 700,000 in June.

Both CEOs are confident the telehealth adoption trend is firmly established, noting the majority of healthcare practices they work with are committed to using video solutions going forward.

“COVID-19 shot everybody over to the remote side,” Welch said. “But, as it starts to swing back, you’re going to see remote visits stay, but also the in-person visits coming back. [Telehealth] is going to be more like how we envisioned it from the beginning, where it’s more of a complement.”

As more and more solutions providers move into the space, plugging telehealth into their own applications and EHRs, leading innovators will distinguish themselves by adding capabilities to the remote doctor-to-patient experience. Ancillary markets, such as chiropractic and veterinary care, as well as opportunities for international growth, represent a “blue ocean” for companies looking to develop telehealth technologies, provided they factor in appropriate support costs.

The Takeaway

Telehealth has never been a more vital component of patient-centric medicine. Cloud-based communications APIs are enabling innovative solutions providers to build telehealth applications that empower practitioners to deliver remote care, increase patient engagement and improve patient outcomes—all while providing the security and privacy patients demand.

 

This article was authored by the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), an American not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving health care in quality, safety, cost-effectiveness and access through the best use of information technology and management systems.

 

 

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