Changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to have a long-term – possibly permanent – impact on how hospitals conduct business and how patients gain access to healthcare. As healthcare organizations anticipate what the new normal will look like in a post-COVID-19 world, they will need to consider necessary short-term and long-term adjustments to their operations. Here are five of the emerging risks that healthcare organizations face.
With the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, many healthcare organizations have either started or increased the use of telemedicine as patients and caregivers seek safer alternatives to traditional delivery models and as states and payers have relaxed previous telehealth billing restrictions. The increase in telehealth brings with it both positive and negative results for healthcare providers as well as several new risks.
From a provider perspective, if the provider implements the right technology, patients have access to adequate broadband internet, and documentation and coding processes are properly established, telemedicine makes it possible for a physician to safely see more patients in a shorter duration of time. Alternatively, to date, telemedicine documentation and coding processes have been more cumbersome, and when combined with technology issues the results often have resulted in a greater burden on healthcare providers, less patient contact, and a generally lower standard of care. Risks include:
- Because more patients and providers might be “socially distant,” increased telemedicine volumes after the pandemic likely will adversely affect demand for ancillary services and outpatient volumes.
- Increased telemedicine use might create challenges in appropriately and completely capturing charges for services rendered and could lead to decreased facility fees and increased denials.
- Some patients are refusing to be seen, because in-person visits that are covered by some health insurance plans no longer are being covered when the patients are “seen” remotely.
- Increased telehealth volumes also might lead to additional stress on IT infrastructure, exposure to cybersecurity threats, and potential Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) breach risk as digital and physical patient information safeguards are relaxed. These risks might be exacerbated as organizations rush to establish or expand telehealth services absent appropriate operational cybersecurity discipline, inadvertently use improperly vetted third-party service providers, and struggle with efficiency and care quality as providers adjust to working from home for the first time.
- Healthcare organizations might face a higher malpractice risk related to telemedicine services as demand spikes and providers deal with unusually high workloads.
Some lax practices (for example, staff using personal phones and other devices for video calls, medical personnel sending unsecured texts and emails of protected health information and medical information, and hospital departments purchasing and implementing video conferencing and other software and services without IT department approval) allowed during the pandemic should be assessed and remediated as provider organizations experience relief from the crisis.