Athenahealth announced this week that it had launched an embedded telehealth tool to allow practitioners to conduct virtual visits without having to download separate software or use another third-party app.
The Watertown, Massachusetts-based cloud computing vendor said athenaTelehealth – which is free for its athenaOne electronic health record tool customers until September 30 – enables providers to more easily conduct HIPAA-compliant telehealth visits within practice workflows, from scheduling to patient messaging, video conferencing, simultaneous-encounter documentation and billing.
“I have been using athenaTelehealth exclusively in my family medicine practice for several weeks now,” said Dr. Dillon Miller, a Blue Ridge, Georgia-based physician, in a statement. “My patients and my staff understand telehealth is the future of patient care, and I am glad to see athenahealth has given us a product to facilitate this new standard of care.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Practitioners around the country have seen skyrocketing telehealth appointment numbers since the start of COVID-19, and athenahealth says it’s no exception.
According to the company, “the athenahealth network saw a 3,400% overall increase in daily telehealth visits from mid-February to late April.”
By directly integrating video conferencing within the athenaOne EHR, the company says it hopes to streamline patient and provider experience.
“Users can simply access their telehealth consultations from any computer or mobile device with a modern web browser and integrated camera – no additional software or integration required,” according to athenahealth.
The company says athenaTelehealth “leverages existing patient communication channels, including email and text message based on patient preferences, and delivers telehealth instructions and a seamless patient experience.”
Nurses can complete patient intake through the EHR and then initiate a so-called virtual handoff to practitioners.
In an athenaTelehealth demo video, a company representative explains that a physician has access to “the same array of documentation types available in a telehealth encounter as she would in a typical clinic-based exam.”
Given that patients may need the presence of medical interpreters, care team members, advocates or additional support, the tool allows up to four people to join consultations from any device with a camera. It is unclear whether patients without access to broadband, smartphones or other webcams can also seek care through athenaTelehealth.
THE LARGER TREND
With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to necessitate social distancing throughout the country, a plethora of telemedicine vendors have stepped up to the plate, offering videoconferencing and remote patient-monitoring, among other options for care.
At the same time, experts have warned of the potential security concerns with the telehealth explosion, especially given the speed at which many health systems have rolled out much larger telehealth deployments than they may have been used to.
“Any time you make a change to an IT environment, you have the potential to increase risk,” said Andy Riley, executive director of security strategy at the managed-security-services vendor Nuspire.
“When you introduce rapid change, that potential goes up rapidly,” he said.
ON THE RECORD
“The ability to provide our patients with a telehealth platform that enables HIPAA compliance while in the encounter fully transformed our telemedicine service,” said Deb Twardowski, a board-certified advanced nurse practitioner with Western Medical Associates. “Western Medical Associates has been an athenahealth client for 14 years, and we were overwhelmingly impressed with the company’s rapid development of a telehealth solution to care for our patients during the pandemic.”
Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.