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NQF Committee Details Telehealth Quality Measure Framework

September 5, 2017
by David Raths
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Report identifies six high-priority areas for measurement in telehealth
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A National Quality Forum committee has created a framework for telehealth quality measurement and identified 16 existing NQF-endorsed measures that can be used initially to measure the impact and quality of telehealth. 
 
In a newly released report, NQF recommends measuring the quality of telehealth in four broad categories: patients’ access to care, financial impact to patients and their care team, patient and clinician experience, and effectiveness of clinical and operational systems. Within these categories, NQF identified six key areas as having the highest priority for measurement in telehealth, including: travel, timeliness of care, actionable information, added value of telehealth to provide evidence-based practices, patient empowerment, and care coordination.
 
During a Sept. 5 webinar presentation about the report, Judd Hollander, M.D., associate dean for strategic health initiatives at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia and co-chair of NQF’s Telehealth Committee, said the NQF quality measure framework is designed to inform policy across the spectrum of payment models as telehealth becomes more ubiquitous. “People are going to get medical care, and one of the ways we’ll deliver it is telemedicine. But we have to know how to measure and report on quality and figure out how we can inform reimbursement in an evidence-based manner.”
 
Marcia Ward, Ph.D., director of the Rural Telehealth Research Center at the University of Iowa and co-chair of the committee, said there are many existing measures that capture quality. “We could have just gone to those and pulled ones we thought were a good fit for telehealth,” she said, “and to some extent we did, but besides being similar to face-to-face care, telehealth does have particular attributes that lend to a subset of measures that capture the uniqueness of telehealth.”  
 
The committee identified concepts that will play a key role as quality measures are developed. One example is travel, which is important in rural telehealth. Ward noted that the telestroke program at the Medical University of South Carolina tracks how many patients at rural hospitals are able to stay in their local community rather than traveling long distances to the academic medical center. Another measure is timeliness of care, she added. In rural communities, the ability to connect local providers with specialists and deliver time-critical care can be enhanced with telehealth, so it is an important measure concept.
 
The committee said the report and the conceptual framework it developed could serve as the foundation for future efforts by measure developers, researchers, analysts and others to advance quality measurement for telehealth. By identifying some of the highest-priority areas for measurement, this report may support the development of measures that incorporate into a telehealth environment as part of an iterative development process. Measurement based on iterative and continuous learning will successfully inform future telehealth quality improvement efforts, including emerging areas such as patient empowerment and care coordination, the NQF report noted. 
 
Below is one case study from the report, followed by a description of the domains, subdomains and measure concepts that might apply:
 
Managing Mild to Moderate Heart Failure Symptoms 
 
Frances is a 63-year-old retired teacher with mild to moderate heart failure. She notices one morning that she is a little more winded than usual and texts her doctor’s office. The office responds with a text link to 10 different time slots for a video visit later that day. She selects one and later that day has a 10-minute video chat with her doctor, who suggests some alterations to her medications. She feels reassured and goes to bed, but awakens in the middle of the night with shortness of breath. She gets frightened, and uses a mobile health application on her phone where she connects with an emergency physician within minutes. The emergency physician assesses her respiratory rate and recommends that she take an additional dose of diuretic. The on-demand doctor schedules an early-morning visit by the community paramedicine team who check her blood pressure, heart rate, oxygenation, and weight. She then participates in a five-minute check-in to review her medication plan with her primary care physician (PCP). The team leaves her a Bluetooth-enabled scale that communicates with the office of her PCP, and they discuss a plan for diuresis to achieve a five-pound weight loss over the next few days.
 
Primary Framework Domains 
Experience
Effectiveness 
Access 
Financial Impact/Cost
 
Applicable Framework Subdomains
Patient, family, and/or caregiver experience 
System effectiveness
Clinical effectiveness
Technical effectiveness 
Access for patients, families, and/or caregivers 
Financial impact to health plans or payers
 
Potential Measure Concepts
Patients demonstrated increased understanding of care plan 
Technologies were in a satisfying condition for providers to do their job
The instructions for care were clear to the patient
Able to provide care without admission into the ER
 
 

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Research: Trends Point to Positive Increase in Telehealth Acceptance, Access

December 17, 2018
by Rajiv Leventhal, Managing Editor
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Current events and issues, such as the opioid epidemic, are increasing the need to provide telehealth services

Stakeholders’ recognition of telehealth benefits has continually increased, as doors are now opening for various subsets of medicine, including tele-mental health, according to new research from law firm Epstein Becker Green (EBG).

The 2018 Tele-mental Health Laws survey provides an update to state telehealth laws, regulations, and policies for mental and behavioral health practitioners and stakeholders across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey’s researchers said that in the last few years, “the public’s and the healthcare industry’s recognition of the benefits of telehealth has continually increased. While the shortage of behavioral health providers has long been acknowledged, the use of telehealth technologies, including practice management systems and online patient portals, to provide greater access to behavioral health professionals has increasingly gained traction and continues to gain validation as an alternative model of care delivery.”

What’s more, EBG also found that current events and issues, such as the opioid epidemic, have put more pressure than ever before on federal and state legislators to pass laws that promote access to, and provide guidance for, providers seeking to utilize telehealth services.

The survey revealed various reasons for the increase of access to tele-mental health services, and telehealth services overall, including:

Bipartisan support: The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 signed into law in February expanded Medicare coverage for certain telehealth services to beneficiaries who are being treated by practitioners participating in accountable care organizations (ACOs).

Greater advocacy from Medicare & Medicaid: In June 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) publicly encouraged states to utilize telemedicine and telepsychiatry to facilitate coordinated care for Medicaid recipients. As of August 2018, 49 states and the District of Columbia provide reimbursement for live video telehealth services through Medicaid fee-for-service programs.  Massachusetts is the only state not yet participating.

The opioid epidemic: Several states, including Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri, have introduced and/or passed legislation that expands remote prescribing of controlled substances for treatment of substance use disorders (SUDs). In October 2018, President Trump signed into law H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (“SUPPORT”) for Patients and Communities Act.

This year’s survey also looked at positive trends in telehealth adoption and usage models, including: school sites and pediatric care; the Department of Veterans Affairs’ expanded telehealth programs (since its rollout, the VA’s telehealth program has onboarded approximately 20,000 new patients and hosts more than 6,000 virtual visits each week); and the promotion of care models for growing aging-in-place populations.

Despite the continued telehealth momentum, several barriers and policy variances do remain, the researchers stated. Some of these include: limited federal guidance on coverage and reimbursement and the lack of meaningful coverage by third-party payors, the report said. To this end, A recent MedPAC survey noted that coverage of telehealth services continues to vary widely across commercial health plans, with most covering only one or two types of telehealth-based services.

“While telehealth parity laws are currently in effect in 39 states and the District of Columbia and are intended to ensure the same coverage of (and in some cases, reimbursement for) telehealth services, there is more work ahead to achieve comprehensive coverage and access. States must continue to enact new parity laws or expand existing ones,” the researchers stated.

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KLAS: EHR Integration, Enterprise Scalability Key Challenges Facing Telehealth Vendors

December 11, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Healthcare organizations report high satisfaction with their telehealth virtual care platforms (VCPs), however there are significant differences in how broad the various platforms are and in the quality of the vendors’ service. What’s more, integration with electronic health record (EHR) systems is a key challenge facing every telehealth vendor, according to a KLAS report.

In its report, “Telehealth Virtual Care Platforms 2019: Which Telehealth Vendors Have the Scalability Customers Need?,” KLAS evaluates some of the top telehealth companies including American Well, MDLive and Epic, and analyzes what capabilities will set vendors apart as more healthcare organizations adopt virtual health technology solutions.

Most virtual care platform vendors receive positive performance ratings, but the depth and breadth of their capabilities vary, and this can impact scalability for organizations looking to grow, according to KLAS. No two vendors are alike in their capabilities, offering different combinations of functionality and experience.

Of the companies KLAS evaluated, the most common type of visit varied—most of American Well’s visits were on-demand urgent care, while the majority of Epic’s visits were associated with virtual clinic visits.

A key factor of scalability is the ability to support multiple visit types, KLAS researchers note. While multiple vendors offer support for all three visit types (on-demand or urgent care, virtual clinic visits and telespecialty consultations) no single vendor has a large proportion of customers using all three (only 12 respondents across all vendors said they were doing so).

American Well, a market share and mindshare leader, and MDLIVE, two of the vendors used most frequently for multiple visit types, receive generally positive—but lower than average—performance scores. Vendors more specialized in specific visit types or component layers (e.g., Vidyo and Zipnosis) have high scores but narrower expectations from customers.

No one vendor meets all needs equally well, but several are reaching for “all-purpose” status with internal development and/or recent acquisitions (American Well acquired Avizia; InTouch acquired TruClinic), according to the report.

KLAS’ analysis also uncovered a general trend of poor integration. In most cases, the addition of a virtual care platform also means the introduction of a second EHR into the clinician workflow.

“Although integration between EMRs is generally understood to be important for care quality, patient safety, efficiency, and productivity, few interviewed VCP customers have full bidirectional transfer in place. Most say that they are too early in their virtual care programs to pursue integration or that it simply costs too much,” KLAS researchers wrote.

Only American Well, Epic, and MDLIVE have more than half of interviewed customers currently on an integrated path, KLAS found. Epic has placed virtual care capabilities directly into their top-rated MyChart patient portal, which many patients already use. Epic integration means clinicians are able to stay within their existing workflow environment as well.

Many provider organizations are in the early phases of their virtual care programs where showing an ROI is an important milestone and one that organizations want to achieve as soon as possible, KLAS notes. “A key promise from vendors is that their technology and accumulated expertise will result in a fast start and continuous acceleration. When this comes at significant cost or progress is slower than expected, provider organizations can experience disappointment,” the KLAS researchers wrote.

When it comes to getting their money’s worth and achieving desired outcomes, Epic and InTouch are rated highest among fully rated vendors, and swyMed and Vidyo perform well among their smaller groups of respondents, KLAS researchers note.

“For each vendor, the current value proposition is somewhat narrow but well understood: Epic’s use is limited to existing patients of Epic EMR customers; InTouch is used primarily for consults; swyMed is used by respondents primarily for mobile, first responder needs; Vidyo delivers video-conferencing tools,

which are typically combined with other VCP solutions. SnapMD is seen as a low-cost option, but some customers say the impact has been limited. Commentary from VSee customers suggests a similar experience,” KLAS researchers wrote in the report.

Many healthcare organizations are early on in their virtual care journeys, and their ability to achieve desired results depends on guidance from vendors. According to KLAS’ analysis, swyMed and InTouch receive the most praise for taking initiative in proactively guiding customers and also in quickly responding to support problems.

While respondents praise American Well’s platform scalability, some customers blame the vendor’s “exponentialgrowth for staffing shortages that have led to implementation holdups and backlogged service requests. Some SnapMD customers say hard-to-beat pricing comes with a support model that is spare in terms of providing tailored guidance, according to the KLAS report.

Most vendors offer two additional options that can help accelerate customers’ expansion and growth—supplemental services, including added-cost advisory and outsourced services, and tools that automate patient-facing tasks that traditionally require additional staff. I

KLAS found that few customers mentioned these options in top-of-mind conversations. “Respondents who spoke of their vendor’s supplemental services most often referred to marketing support or strategic planning services from vendors American Well, MDLIVE, or Zipnosis. Those who referred to task automation report patient-self-service capabilities around check-in, scheduling, surveys, and/or patient flow from InTouch Health (TruClinic), Epic, MDLIVE, or Zipnosis,” the KLAS researchers wrote.

 

 

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Study: Neonatal Telehealth Reduces Hospital Transfers, Saves Money

December 11, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Neonatal video-assisted resuscitation reduces transfers from hospitals without newborn intensive care units and provides significant cost savings, according to study published in the November issue of Health Affairs.

The study authors, led by Jordan Albritton of Intermountain Healthcare, examined a newborn telehealth program implemented at eight Intermountain Healthcare community hospitals in November 2014–December 2015 and the impact on the transfer of newborns from those eight hospitals to level 3 newborn intensive care units.

Studies show that 10 percent of newborns require assistance breathing at birth, and 1 percent require extensive resuscitation. At Intermountain Healthcare, approximately 1–2 percent of all babies born in suburban and rural hospitals are transferred to newborn intensive care units (NICUs) for higher-level care, according to the study.

In response to the need to improve outcomes for complex newborn patients, an innovative telehealth program was established at Intermountain Healthcare in 2013 to provide synchronous, video-assisted resuscitation (VAR), bringing a neonatologist to the bedside. As a result, access to specialized neonatal services in rural and suburban settings is no longer limited to telephone calls or the arrival of a neonatal transport team, the study authors wrote.

While telehealth can facilitate video connections between neonatologists at tertiary care centers and providers at smaller hospitals, there is little empirical evidence about the benefits of telehealth programs for neonatal resuscitation, according to the study authors.

Although Intermountain Healthcare began using telehealth technologies in 2013, the current VAR program was implemented in the period November 2014–December 2015. Today, neonatologists from four level 3 NICUs provide VAR support for nineteen referring hospitals.

As part of the study, the researchers evaluated eight hospitals that contained either well-baby (level 1) or special care (level 2) nurseries staffed by physicians, advanced practice clinicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, and other health care professionals. T

The study found that video-assisted resuscitation was associated with a reduction of 0.70 transfers per facility-month and a 29.4 percent reduction in a newborn’s odds of being transferred. Annually, this resulted in 67.2 fewer transfers and an estimated cost savings of $1.2 million per year.

The study authors conclude that reducing transfers keeps families closer to home, increases community hospital revenue, and reduces risk associated with transfers.

“This program helps keep newborns in level 1 or 2 nurseries, which in turn allows families to stay closer to home, improves social support, and increases the revenue of community hospitals while reducing costs and risks associated with transfers,” the study authors wrote. “Payers should consider reimbursement for pediatric subspecialty telehealth consults for neonates in level 1 and 2 nurseries. Through improvements in care quality and cost savings, this service would likely pay for itself many times over.

However, the authors also note that lack of reimbursement for telehealth services limits widespread implementation.

“Policy changes are necessary to align payment incentives and promote the use of telehealth services,” the study authors wrote.

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