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3 Telehealth Takeaways from HIMSS

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   March 30, 2021

CEO addresses telehealth strategy, reimbursement, and investment trends. 

One year ago, hospitals and health systems scrambled to roll out or expand telehealth programs to meet the needs of their providers, patients, and communities during the pandemic. Where do they go from here?

Many IT leaders have been turning to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HMMS). Membership experienced tremendous growth during the pandemic. The organization now has more than 105,000 members, up from 70,000 about three years ago, with most of the growth occurring over the past year. 

HealthLeaders recently spoke with HIMSS President and CEO Hal Wolf about the impact telehealth has had on the organization and its members. Following are three takeaways from that conversation.

1. It's Time for Health Systems to Focus on Telehealth Strategy

"We all recognize that healthcare systems absorbed a massive amount change," Wolf says. "They threw a lot of technology against it." 

Today, Wolf says, leaders are pausing to consider next steps.

"What we're hearing from our members is they threw a lot of short-term solutions at the problem," he says. "Now they're looking up and saying, 'What is my long-term game plan? I need to know what technology to use; I need to better understand my strategic goals; I need to really figure out how I'm going to be able to implement and what I can implement.' " 

HIMSS Analytics offers members Maturity Models that help organizations with technology adoption and "have helped hospitals and health systems around the globe to figure out when to invest where they are and what their next steps should be," says Wolf.

While a specific model for telehealth has not been developed, The Continuity of Care Maturity Model was developed to promote coordinated care. The eight-stage model "demonstrates the evolution of communication between clinicians in different settings with limited or no electronic communication to an advanced, multi-organizational, knowledge driven community of care," according to HIMSS. There are elements of telehealth embedded in this model that could be helpful to health systems.

2. Reimbursement Will Set the Stage for the Immediate Future of Telehealth

Reimbursement is the lynchpin that will determine the immediate future of telehealth and Congress has its finger on the key. While certain regulations related to providing access to telehealth have been extended, and earlier this year a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives introduced the Protecting Access to Post-COVID-19 Telehealth Act of 2021 legislation, the entire healthcare industry is waiting for permanent action.

"While hospitals systems are trying to figure out how much to invest into telehealth and digital health," Wolf says. "what they need is a clear understanding of the long-term reimbursement models so that they know that their investment will be returned to them. It's very critical in the next six months we get a positive direction."  

While HIMSS' government relations team is working to shore up legislative support, Wolfe says comments made during Xavier Becerra's confirmation hearings as the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services show signs that Congress is moving in the right direction.

3. Investment Trends Support Telehealth Growth

In a Healthcare Investing Trends Report posted recently by HIMSS, multiple investors and healthcare leaders examined marketplace trends and nearly all of them placed telehealth at the forefront.  

"We're moving from an 'inside out' encounter-based paradigm to 'outside in.'  I think the investment trends are a reflection of that," Wolf says.

"As we begin to emerge from COVID-19 as an industry, it is no surprise that we are seeing more investment in areas like behavioral health, remote patient monitoring (RPM), telehealth, cybersecurity, virtual fitness, and others," wrote Kerry Amato, executive director, Health Innovation, HIMSS, in the introduction to the report.

Among the telehealth highlights:

  • "Investments are being driven by high utilization, changes in reimbursement policy from both government and private payers, and remote patient monitoring opportunities," according to a trio of HIMMS collaborators. "We should expect to see add-ons to telemedicine platforms like pairing with clinical decision support for providers, use of AI (such as chatbots and triage tools), and platform pairing with remote patient monitoring devices." 
  • "The real opportunity … is moving the industry from Telehealth 1.0—essentially an island of video visits outside of the care continuum—to an integrated digital operating system that aggregates patient intent by matching care with search, navigating patients to the right venue of care, and optimizing access to care." — Aaron Martin, executive vice president and chief digital officer, Providence
  • "The [digital health] space will continue to expand in the coming year because every large stakeholder—from health systems to employers to health plans—are going to have to retool to stay in business and to grow their businesses and they’re going to need new supports to do that.— Indu Subaiya, MD, MBA, co-founder and president, Catalyst @ Health 2.0; senior advisor, HIMSS

“[Health systems] threw a lot of short-term solutions at the problem. Now they're looking up and saying, 'What is my long-term game plan?'”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.

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