By Mary Butler
Last week Congress passed an $8.3 billion emergency funding bill to help state and federal localities fight COVID-19. That bill also designated $500 million for telehealth services and eased some Medicare restrictions on telehealth reimbursement to enable virtual check-ins that help providers determine clinically appropriate services.
Mike Brandofino, president and chief operation officer of Caregility—which provides tele-ICU, tele-stroke, e-consults, virtual sitting, and interpreting services—spoke to the Journal of AHIMA about the role telehealth can play in helping contain COVID-19, as well as future outbreaks and pandemics.
JAHIMA: Have you seen an uptick in orders since the outbreak started?
Mike Brandofino: Last week, literally, last week almost in conjunction with the cancellation of HIMSS, we got a rash of customers calling in asking us for more product and helping them. There are some government agencies that utilize our platform, and we would expect that they are potentially being utilized in situations where they need to quarantine folks.
JAHIMA: How are your telehealth units and software set up?
MB: Our solution is a cloud-based solution from a software perspective. And the hospital either has systems physically mounted in the room, we call them wall units, or they leverage carts. And now, with our mobile app, they can leverage any mobile device. But historically, most hospitals have wall units hanging on the walls and then for rooms that don’t have wall units, they’ll roll in a cart.
JAHIMA: Can you do home monitoring?
MB: Yes. If a patient’s at home and they want to do a video session, providers can just send them a link to their web browser. But we also have an app that runs on iOS or Android and it enables doctors to do remote control of the camera and the audio from our app.
JAHIMA: When you were starting your telehealth services, were you envisioning pandemics and outbreaks as a use case for telehealth?
MB: I honestly have to say no. It just so happens that that our technology and capability is very appropriate for the situations where you need to either stretch your resources to deal with a pandemic and/or try and limit physical contact with a patient. I would love to say that we had this vision of doing that on purpose, but our solution is scalable enough and seems to be really appropriate for this in this current crisis.
JAHIMA: Last week Congress approved extra funding for telehealth. Were you happy to see that and will that help providers use a solution like yours?
MB: We’re so glad that they had the foresight. We’re starting to see some movement in coverage of telehealth sessions. They approved coverage of things like Teladoc, which is a patient with a doctor for a 20-minute session, but they hadn’t yet really done coverage for this e-sitting or for the monitoring in the ICU. That’s still underway. But the fact that they recognize telehealth as having a potential large impact in fighting COVID-19, we’re happy with that. And I think it’ll enable some hospitals that haven’t had funding to get telehealth programs underway.
The hospitals that have gone ahead and invested in telehealth are much more prepared now to scale and expand. And it just goes to show you that we should be investing in telehealth when there’s not a crisis so that we can react when there is. It’s really nice to see that the government included telehealth in their emergency packages because, hopefully, it will get some of those hospitals that haven’t been able to invest in it to get it and get started.
JAHIMA: Do you know when the funding from Congress will be released? How has COVID-19 changed things at your company?
MB: We actually have a war room set up with all the different folks in my organization, including folks that work at federal level to try and start getting that information in place. What we’re seeing is customers are asking us to accelerate delivery of systems. They’re ordering more and they want more carts.
We have one customer who has a building that they were moving out of, but now they’re going to dedicate that whole wing to potential COVID-19 patients. So they need to get technology back into those facilities.
JAHIMA: How do you comply with HIPAA during a telehealth encounter?
MB: We do not capture patient’s data and we do not record any of the video interactions currently. The technology exists, but most of our customers’ legal departments prefer not to have anything recorded, which makes sense. So, we don’t capture patient data. All we capture is the call activity to a room and we don’t know who’s in that room. So, from a patient’s perspective, their anonymity is completely protected with our solution.
Mary Butler (email@example.com) is associate editor at the Journal of AHIMA.