Integrated vs. Standalone Telehealth for Your EHR
Telehealth is here to stay. Nearly two years into the pandemic, behavioral health has shifted a large portion of its provider-patient interactions online, and research suggests that significant numbers of patients will keep using telehealth once the pandemic subsides.
This means every behavioral health practice must embrace telehealth. The options for telehealth platforms, however, can seem confusingly vast. Which software company is right for your practice? What are the different types of integrated vs. standalone telehealth software for EHR, and what features do they offer? Patients now have more experience than ever with video calling services, and higher expectations as a result.
Telehealth solutions may be integrated with your EHR or may be standalone services, and which you choose will likely come down to functionality, security concerns, and cost. Here’s an overview of the four types of telehealth solutions and what they each offer.
Natively embedded telehealth
Many EHR providers have responded to the demand for telehealth by building their own telehealth platforms directly into their EHRs. This provides the most seamless experience for patients and providers, making it an attractive option.
EHR-embedded telehealth means providers can access patient data while in the virtual meeting and work with their own clinical notes without constantly jumping between software systems. With telehealth embedded into the system, scheduling and billing for these appointments becomes a breeze and errors are reduced. Patients, meanwhile, appreciate accessing their entire behavioral health care through just one platform, with no extra apps or logins to manage.
Before you choose an EHR with built-in telehealth, make sure it has all the features you need for online sessions. Ask questions like:
- Can providers schedule telehealth calls into the EHR calendar as easily as in-person appointments?
- What clinical note-taking or other documentation features can providers access during the call?
- Is the video call high-quality?
- Is the video calling software user-friendly for my patients?
- Will users have to download something to their computer or phone to use this feature?
The cost of natively embedded telehealth depends on the specific EHR chosen, as well as the value to your practice of smooth and reliable telehealth technology. For practices that frequently utilize this type of care, an investment in smooth processes may pay for itself in the long run.
Budget-conscious providers whose EHR doesn’t offer telehealth may turn to separate telehealth platforms that can integrate with existing EHRs. Platforms offering one-directional integration are often the cheapest from an API standpoint, although it depends on the particular EHR in question.
However, this money-saving option may cost you in time and security. One-directional integration typically flows from EHR to telehealth service, meaning your video chat software cannot send information back to the EHR. This may lead to therapists downloading documents or links from the video chat to upload into their EHR notes. This can create security risks and place additional documentation burdens on the provider.
If budget concerns constrain you to this option, you’ll need to take extra care to train providers on the cyber security risks.
To avoid the security risk, some providers choose telehealth platforms with bi-directional integration capabilities, so that the telehealth feature and the EHR can share data back and forth.
This comes with many of the same benefits as natively embedded telehealth. Providers save time and minimize documentation errors by effortlessly sharing data between the telehealth platform and their clinical records. Scheduling and billing hassles are reduced. Some benefits are missing, however. For example, patients who visit via telehealth will have to access and navigate another software program in addition to your EHR.
The increased features come with a bigger price tag. Bi-directional integration may cost more month-to-month due to usage-based pricing. Setup typically costs more, as well. While not the most economical choice, this option may nevertheless appeal to providers who want strong telehealth integration but are reluctant to transition to a new EHR.
Third party software, no integration
These telehealth solutions stand completely on their own with no integration to your existing EHR. In the spectrum of integrated vs. standalone telehealth EHR options, they’re often available at little to no cost, which makes them a popular choice with some providers.
Keep in mind, however, that just like one-directional integration, you may be trading off security and time savings. Providers must manage all aspects of scheduling, documentation, and billing separately from the telehealth call, and the same vulnerabilities exist in regards to providers downloading information from the video chat to upload into the EHR.
If you choose this option, make sure you utilize the maximum security settings offered by the software provider. This includes multi-factor authentication if users will access telehealth from their phones.
Shopping for security
Unfortunately, hackers and scammers have rushed to take advantage of telehealth’s new popularity. A recent report from SecurityScorecard and DarkOwl found that “telehealth providers have experienced a nearly exponential increase in targeted attacks as popularity skyrocketed, including a 30% increase of cybersecurity findings per domain.”
Notable points of security vulnerability included malware infections and subsequent IP reputation security alerts, vulnerabilities in endpoint security, weak points within web-based apps used by patients, and more.
As you shop for a telehealth solution, ask yourself the following questions about each system’s security measures:
- Does this company install security patches on a regular basis, and if so, how often?
- How secure is the web-based application that patients will actually use to connect with their providers?
- Does this telehealth service offer end-to-end data encryption?
- Is this software HIPAA-compliant?
- Does this software enable multi-factor authentication for users?
- How easy is it to log and review everything that’s done on the system?
You will also need strong policies around telehealth within your own practice. This may include regular training of staff and providers on cybersecurity risks.
Valant Software Makes It Easy
Enjoy easy data sharing and seamless processes with Valant’s natively-embedded telehealth platform built into the EHR. Your providers effortlessly schedule, access, and bill for their online calls while our data encryption and security features work silently in the background to keep your patient data safe. Contact a Valant representative today to learn how we can make your telehealth services a pleasure to manage.