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The Advantages of Telehealth and Why Hospitals Must be Cautious With It

Telehealth has been around for a while now, even if it only came to prominence during the last year. A paper from the University of California, Davis suggests that telehealth started in the early 1960s. Authoritative websites run by major healthcare providers have been around for at least 20 years. The last year or so has seen remote solutions come into their own, with regular consultations held by video call, support groups for all kinds of ailments moving to online platforms, and routine telephone screening used to allocate patients to the appropriate staff member – exposing virtually everyone to the advantages of telehealth.

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Given the pandemic, people were told to shelter in place. The healthcare system had no spare capacity to deal with seeing patients face to face. Patients were told not to attend the hospital or their regular clinic. Elective surgeries were canceled and routine appointments became virtual, conducted first by telephone and then by video call. The stuff of science fiction suddenly hit the mainstream – slowly demonstrating the advantages of telehealth.

Medical staff members are dealing with ever more complicated cases, among other things. Anything which can simplify and streamline this necessary engagement has to be tried, at least. The pandemic allowed a trial that otherwise might have been seen as driving patients away.

Remote healthcare has been growing in the last few decades. From emails requesting medical records or consultant second opinions, to routine online forms to fill out for regular repeat prescriptions or book appointments, the ability to integrate technology in healthcare is clear. Many primary healthcare practitioners no longer accept requests for repeat prescriptions by telephone but instead require patients to fill in their details online. Imaging reports can be filed online and shared electronically with a patient’s care team, while telephone or video consultations can save a patient having to visit the clinic unless a physical exam is necessary. This may allow the patient to fit the call into a scheduled break at work or arrange for others to take care of dependents for a short time.

The advantages of telehealth everyone loves

Telehealth does not necessarily even need anything more than a cellphone connection. A video connection may be preferable in some cases, but most screening and initial consultations can be carried out over the phone. No costly and time-consuming travel for the patient, no risk of delays for the practitioner. In these times of social distancing, it is best to minimize in-person contact, and telehealth is ideal for this. Patients who have been advised to shelter in place can still receive advice, treatment, prescriptions, and counseling with no risk to themselves or their specialist.

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Telehealth also speeds up the sharing of information between healthcare teams. A report and images can be shared by email over a secure link far quicker than a physical package can be delivered. Sharing patient information online can expedite care, which in turn can improve patient outcomes, quality, and safety in healthcare.

Telehealth needs to be used with caution

While there are numerous advantages of telehealth, it still needs to be used with caution. Technology can be used to help healthcare, as long as it is used securely and correctly. No one wants a patient safety incident resulting from misdirected confidential information or an incorrect bill, after all. Telehealth is more than simply a way to help hospitals improve their finances. Facilities need to ensure they can demonstrate to patients and staff that telehealth is secure as well as slick. It can allow patients to access healthcare when they wouldn’t otherwise be able to, as it will put them in touch with a regular member of their team who is familiar with their case. This means a higher quality of care than if the patient was simply searching online for treatment options.

One option which is not mentioned so often is that telehealth visits can be billed faster. Good for the provider, not so great for the patient, who may also have to attend an in-person appointment for a physical examination after screening. Both the initial virtual consultation and the appointment on site are likely to be chargeable, even though initial screening has often previously been free. Some providers may decide to offer a package of mixed virtual and face-to-face appointments, but should always make this clear to the patient.

Telehealth is not for everyone

Telehealth is convenient for those who are busy and anyone who can get to grips with new software quickly. For patients who are not technologically aware, anyone who lives off the beaten track, in rural locations, or off-grid altogether, it is likely to be more of a challenge to access. Virtual consultations have their place, but in-person healthcare must remain for those who cannot or choose not to access it online.

Some patients will, after all, have reservations about virtual appointments due to concerns about data and personal security. A biometric touchless patient identification platform like RightPatient may help calm their worries. Because it is biometric rather than in-person or touchscreen activated, it can prevent medical identity theft during both telehealth or in-person visits.

RightPatient-ensures-medical-identity-theft-prevention-even-with-telehealth

Medical Identity Theft Prevention Becomes Crucial as Telehealth Usage Rises

The novel coronavirus, infamously known as COVID-19, is a phenomenon that has changed our lives forever. Wearing masks, using sanitizers, and practicing social distancing has become a part of our daily lives, especially for those who need to leave their houses every day. It has disrupted business operations and even forced many into bankruptcy, causing businesses to shut down. One of the most affected industries is healthcare, and it is safe to say that the US healthcare system has been severely affected by the pandemic. Hospitals have shut down, and those that are open are facing unprecedented losses. However, telehealth has experienced a meteoric rise in both popularity and usage. While more patients and caregivers are adopting telehealth, healthcare providers need to ensure that such visits are not plagued with medical identity theft cases. Let’s take a look at the rapid rise of telehealth, how people are adapting to it, and how medical identity theft prevention can be ensured with RightPatient.

RightPatient-ensures-medical-identity-theft-prevention-even-with-telehealth

Telehealth is becoming mainstream

Let’s take a look at a recent survey by Amwell. The research sheds light on the fact that patients and caregivers are far more open to using telehealth now compared to the pre-pandemic period. The numbers clearly illustrate this: in 2019, 8% of patients and 22% of caregivers had virtual sessions, whereas in 2020, the number is around 22% for patients and a whopping 80% for caregivers. This is predominantly because the pandemic forced hospitals to shift their focus to the COVID-19 patients, leaving others with the option to get treated via virtual sessions rather than inpatient visits.

Some of the key findings from the study regarding telehealth are:

More scheduled virtual visits compared to urgent care visits

According to the survey, patients leaned towards scheduled virtual visits compared to urgent care visits. 54% of patients had scheduled virtual visits with their physicians, whereas 21% of patients who had at least a virtual visit had an urgent care visit as well during 2020.

Virtual specialty care is growing rapidly

Unsurprisingly, telehealth is being used by more patients every day. 42% of patients had virtual visits with their regular specialists, and 13% had virtual visits with new specialists this year. Moreover, specialists such as cardiologists, surgeons, and others stated that they had seen more patients virtually compared to 2019. This led to specialists being more open to telehealth as well – it was the only way to treat some patients due to COVID-19.

More patients were opting for telehealth

2020 had three times the number of patients using telehealth compared to 2019. 59% of the patients who used telehealth stated that their first usage was during the pandemic, and an overwhelming 91% of the patients were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the visits.

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Healthcare providers, on the other hand, said that they saw almost four times more patients this year compared to 2019, and 84% of providers were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with the platforms. 

Medical identity theft prevention must be ensured

While all of the above statistics show that telehealth has a promising future ahead, it also has to ensure patient safety. There are many risks associated with conventional inpatient visits such as medical identity theft, patient misidentification, medical errors, and so on. While not all of these issues will bleed over to telehealth, many experts are predicting that telehealth might witness medical identity theft cases. Thus, responsible caregivers should ensure medical identity theft prevention to secure safe, undisrupted healthcare visits – for both virtual and inpatient visits.

How data breaches, medical identity theft, and telehealth are related

Healthcare data breaches are becoming common because hackers can steal patient information and sell it for up to $1000. Data breaches are endless nightmares for healthcare providers – causing HIPAA compliance issues, loss of goodwill, unwanted publicity, and finally, medical identity theft. Fraudsters buy the information from the hackers to assume the identities of the patients and use the victims’ healthcare services illegally. Since many healthcare providers don’t have robust patient identity verification systems, they are unable to identify the scammers. These are the cases that occur within healthcare facilities. 

Telehealth has been largely ignored in the pre-pandemic world. People were debating about its pros and cons, and since it didn’t provide the same level of flexibility as conventional healthcare, its future was uncertain. However, the pandemic changed the public’s perception regarding telehealth. As the statistics above demonstrated telehealth’s acceptance, experts have predicted that hackers and fraudsters will focus on it as well. If they acquire the login credentials of patients, fraudsters can also impersonate the victims during telehealth sessions, committing medical identity theft virtually. Thus, medical identity theft prevention becomes crucial.

RightPatient ensures medical identity theft prevention

Thankfully, healthcare providers can prevent medical identity theft with RightPatient. It is a touchless biometric patient identification platform that uses the faces of the patients to prevent healthcare fraud and protect patient data. With a powerful photo-based engine, RightPatient ensures that the patients are who they say they are. After scheduling appointments, patients receive an SMS or email and they need to provide a personal photo and a photo of their driver’s license to verify their identity. The platform automatically matches the photos, ensuring remote identity verification.

RightPatient ensures accurate patient identification across the continuum of care, starting right from appointment scheduling. During hospital visits, all the patient needs to do is look at the camera – the platform matches the current photo with the one saved during registration, creating a touchless, easy, and hygienic experience. RightPatient is preventing duplicate medical records, reducing claim denials, preventing medical identity theft, and enhancing patient safety for leading healthcare providers. Be a responsible provider and protect patient data with RightPatient now.

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Upgrading the Patient Identification Process Can Help Combat the Opioid Crisis

Opioid abuse has been a constant problem for the U.S. healthcare system for years now. When opioid medications were introduced, it was said that they would help caregivers and patients by improving healthcare outcomes. However, many didn’t count on the fact that it might create problems such as opioid addictions, leading to medical identity theft, overdoses, and even deaths of the addicts as well as their newborns. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a sharp rise in opioid abuse cases. Let’s review some statistics associated with opioid abuse, where cases are happening now, why they usually happen, and how a proper patient identification process can help combat the opioid epidemic for healthcare providers.

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The opioid epidemic is just one of the many problems

We’ve stated this more times than we can count – the U.S. healthcare system just doesn’t seem to catch a break. It has always been plagued with a number of serious problems. Expensive healthcare, lack of price transparency, lack of proper patient identification process, medical identity theft cases, healthcare data breaches, duplicate medical records – these are just some of the many issues faced by patients and caregivers. However, the opioid crisis is another significant issue that needs to be addressed – even during the pandemic, it’s getting worse. Thus, healthcare providers are not only facing the issues above, but they’re also fighting a pandemic as well as an epidemic. However, before getting into the current situation, let’s take a look at some stats.

The numbers show how serious the opioid epidemic is

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 130+ people died every day due to opioid overdoses, 10.3 million Americans misused prescribed opioids in 2018, and 2 million patients misused prescribed opioids the first time they received them from their doctor. 

However, the numbers have jumped significantly this year compared to 2019 in approximately 21 of the largest U.S. counties, according to The Wall Street Journal. Counties in California, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, and Ohio saw an increase in deaths caused by opioid overdoses. Moreover, Los Angeles County suffered an increase in overdoses by 48% within the first 6 weeks of the novel coronavirus pandemic when compared to the same period from last year. But why are the opioid cases considered an epidemic? 

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The opioid crisis in a nutshell

In the late 90s, opioids were pushed by pharmaceutical companies – ensuring that they were either less addictive or nonaddictive compared to other drugs available at that time – morphine, for instance. They stated that even the less addictive ones had no dangerous side-effects. This instilled doctors and physicians with confidence and they started prescribing them to patients. It created an epidemic that the U.S. healthcare system has been battling for decades now – and the rates are only increasing. But how do addicted patients get their hands on these drugs from hospitals?

Lack of a proper patient identification process leads to more cases

Patient identification, as previously mentioned, has been problematic for years now. The addicted patients can simply go back to their caregivers and demand more of the dangerous drugs, stating that this is the first time they’re requesting them – abusing their prescriptions. Since the caregivers don’t have a proper way to verify such statements (as an effect of the lack of patient identification), they have no other choice.

Also, addicts might lie regarding their information and present themselves as a different patient in order to get access to the drugs. One way they can do that is by committing medical identity theft – they assume the identities of others to receive the drugs. Thus, hospitals can better battle the opioid crisis if they make the patients go through a proper patient identification process.

RightPatient can enhance your patient identification process

RightPatient has already been helping leading healthcare providers ensure positive patient identification for years now. With its photo-based search engine, RightPatient can prevent medical identity theft in real-time, ensure that patients are who they say they are, and track their last visits to the facilities to verify that they’re getting the prescribed medicine and nothing more.

RightPatient can also ensure accurate patient identification from appointment scheduling. After booking an appointment, the patient receives an SMS or email to verify their identity. A patient only needs to provide their selfie and a photo of their driver’s license. RightPatient matches the photos and remotely validates the patient’s identity. If it’s a new patient, the platform assigns biometric credentials for them, making it a seamless process.

RightPatient has several benefits – not only can it help curb the opioid abuse cases, but it can also prevent medical identity theft, avoid duplicate medical records, and help in improving patient safety and quality of care.

How Big is the Patient Mix-up Problem in the U.S.?

How Big is the Patient Mix-up Problem in the U.S.?

Hollywood has created several films featuring a person that was wrongly informed about cancer or another fatal disease with the patient being told that they only have a few months/days left to live. Upon hearing this news, the patient goes on a spending spree and adventure only to discover in the end that things have been mixed up. This might make for a great movie but in the real world, if such a patient mix-up happens, the outcomes may be far worse. 

But just how frequently does this medical record mix-up problem happen in real life?

It seems that the problem of so-called mistaken patient identity is big enough to cause serious problems – something that is very evident from the article published in the Boston Globe, reporting 14 cases of mistaken identity

Reports indicate that medical errors due to patient mix-ups are a recurrent problem. Consequently, a wrong person may be operated on, the wrong leg may be amputated, the wrong organ may be removed, etc. In fact, CNN reported that in 6.5 years, in Colorado alone, more than 25 cases of surgery on the wrong patient have been reported, apart from more than 100 instances of the wrong body parts being operated on.

It would be challenging to estimate the true total number of patient mix-ups simply because the vast majority of them go unreported until something untoward happens. Even in cases where complications do occur, most medical organizations would not be eager to publicize them. 

Today, it is widely accepted that medical errors are the third largest killer in the U.S.; that is, far more people die of medical errors compared to diseases like pneumonia or emphysema. It is now estimated that more than 700 patients are dying each day due to medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals. This figure clearly indicates that medical errors often occur even though a fraction of them will have fatal outcomes. It also tells us that cases of patient mix-ups may be shockingly high and indeed underreported.

Though several thousand cases of mistaken patient identity have been recorded, it remains the most misunderstood health risk, something that hospitals barely report, and an outcome that patients do not expect to happen.

The U.S. healthcare system is extremely complex, making it challenging for a single solution to resolve this issue. There have been lots of efforts to implement a unique identity number for each patient (a national identifier) but political roadblocks have proven difficult to navigate. The chances are bleak that any such national system would be created, as patients remain profoundly worried about the privacy of their data.

At present, perhaps the best option is that each hospital finds its own way to solve this problem by developing some internal system to make sure that patient mix-ups don’t happen. Or, a better idea is to leave this task to the professional organizations that specialize in the business of improving patient identification. The RightPatient® Smart App is a perfect example of an innovative solution that is powered by deep learning and artificial intelligence to turn any device like a tablet or smartphone into a powerful tool to completely eliminate the problem of mistaken patient identity.

Technological solutions are often meant to augment human efforts, not to replace them. Here are some of the ways to avoid patient mix-ups:

  • Always confirm two unique patient identifiers within the EHR (Electronic Health Record), like patient name and identity number.  Though this is a standard practice, many mistakes still occur due to similar first or last names. Thus, an app like RightPatient can help to eliminate the chances of such an error.
  • Two identifications should be used for all critical processes.
  • There must be a system to alert staff if two patients have a similar first or last name.
  • Avoid placing patients with similar names in the same room.

Although patient misidentification and medical record mix-ups continue to plague the U.S. healthcare system, there is hope to address this serious issue with solutions like RightPatient. Now, we just need healthcare providers to make this a priority and take action. 

At the Becker's Conference, learn how RightPatient prevents patient fraud

At the Becker’s Conference, learn how RightPatient prevents patient fraud

The Becker’s 2017 (and 3rd annual) Health IT & Revenue Cycle Conference is only a few days away! Needless to say, we’re excited, and it’s not just because George W. Bush and Sugar Ray Leonard will be there. The conference has a great lineup of speakers, presentations, and, ahem, vendors like RightPatient that will be providing a wealth of information on a variety of important topics.

The timing of this conference could not be better considering the recent Equifax data breach, which puts over 140 million Americans at risk of identity theft. This has serious implications for healthcare, but the good news is that patients and providers can mitigate their risk with RightPatient.

Since our inception, we have always recommended Photo Biometrics with RightPatient and have never deviated from that position. This didn’t come out of left field; we are, by far, the most experienced vendor in our market segment with 15 years of experience in biometric technology. We have worked with many biometric modalities, implemented our technology in projects around the world, built some massive biometric matching systems, and generally know this stuff inside and out. That’s why we always knew what was best for healthcare and had a vision of how Photo Biometrics would be used with our platform to transform the way that patients are identified.

 

RightPatient accurately identifies patients by simply capturing their photo. At provider locations, this is critical to prevent identification errors and medical record mix-ups that affect patient safety, revenue cycle, and data integrity. With 1,000 patients dying each day from preventable medical errors and hospitals writing off millions of dollars annually from denied claims and patient fraud, health systems should have an easy time justifying RightPatient.

But, for good measure, we now have the Equifax breach. Patient fraud was already a serious issue with 2-10% of patients showing up at the ED and providing false information (I’m looking at you, frequent flyers). We’ve heard countless stories from customers before they implemented RightPatient about frequent card sharing and outright fraud that was costing them millions in annual write-offs (RightPatient has since eliminated these issues). With the personal data of over 140 million Americans now compromised, how much easier will it be for someone to obtain care, access healthcare information, or gain a medical record release under a stolen identity?

Here’s the bigger question – why deal with any of these risks at all? For a small monthly fee, healthcare providers could implement RightPatient and solve these issues. When patients interact with their providers, RightPatient captures their picture and accurately identifies them. The service is contactless (ideal for hygiene/infection control), supports mobile devices (e.g. EMTs, unconscious patients, home health visits), and the patient photos that RightPatient simultaneously captures deliver unparalleled value in various ways.

If you have a chance, stop by our booth #1003 at the Becker’s Conference to check out why RightPatient is transforming patient ID in healthcare and to learn about our vision. We look forward to seeing you there!

protecting healthcare data

Healthcare Data Security: How Doctors and Nurses Access, Utilize, and Protect Your Information

The following guest post on healthcare data security was submitted by Brooke Chaplan.

Anyone who has been to a doctor’s office, hospital or other healthcare institution knows that these can be busy places with patients waiting to be seen and professionals bustling about to perform their duties. With all of this activity going on and various personnel involved in your care, you may wonder about the security of your medical records. Sensitive information lies within the paper and electronic files used by your medical providers. Let’s take a look at how doctors and nurses access, utilize and safeguard your healthcare data.

Healthcare Data Security: How Doctors and Nurses Access, Utilize, and Protect Your Information

Docs and nurses need access to your protected health information (PHI) to provide you optimal care. What steps are they taking to protect that healthcare data?

Confidentiality, Privacy, and Security

First, it’s important to identify the difference between three different terms that are often used interchangeably within healthcare. The concepts of confidentiality, privacy and security are related, but each has its own significant meaning with regard to balancing the needs of patients, providers, the public and other relevant parties such as insurance personnel. When discussing confidentiality in the medical field, the term refers to the duty of personnel to hold any patient healthcare data to which they have access in the strictest of confidence.

Privacy is a separate concept that has to do with an individual patient’s right to decide how personal medical information is shared and with whom. You may be familiar with HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This statute by the federal government states that, while a patient’s right to privacy and control of their healthcare data still exists, there are some parties to whom such data can be shared without prior patient approval. These include public health officials, health organization administration and payment providers. Finally, there is security, which is all about the protection of confidentiality and privacy of patients. It refers to the ways in which healthcare data is stored and accessed.

Medical Records and Their Use

Your medical records contain a wide range of information. Your full name and unique patient number within that particular healthcare network is stored in your records, along with demographic data like your date of birth, gender and race. Your allergies, medical conditions, lifestyle habits in addition to detailed accounts of every provider visit, lab result, prescription and referrals. Your payment, billing and insurance information are also kept in your medical records, as is your family medical history.

Organizational Policies and Procedures

As you can see, there is a great deal of sensitive and personal healthcare data kept within your individual medical records. In order to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of patient data, healthcare and medical organizations pay special attention to create structured policies and procedures regarding the way such information is handled, stored and accessed. Each network will have its own unique set of guidelines, but the matter is taken very seriously among medical providers. In fact, an entire profession known as healthcare or nursing informatics is dedicated to the management of healthcare data. Many universities also offer a masters in nursing informatics program. An informatics expert is usually employed to help organizations protect patient health information and to ensure only necessary professionals can gain access.

Healthcare providers work hard to care for your medical needs. They are also concerned with the proper care of your personal data. You can rest assured that procedures are in place to ensure the security of your private and confidential information.

Author Bio:

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most her time hiking, biking and gardening. For more information contact Brooke via Twitter @BrookeChaplan.

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Top Patient Privacy Concerns With Healthcare Data Integration

The following guest post on patient privacy was submitted by Avery Phillips.

In many industries, the proliferation of mobile, cloud, and data collection technology is far outpacing the ability of regulatory bodies to keep up. This is especially true in healthcare, partly due to the sensitive nature of patient records and partly due to widespread adoption of mobile health tracking by both practitioners and the general public.

Top Patient Privacy Concerns With Healthcare Data Integration

Learn more about the privacy implications when patients share health data online in this guest post from Avery Phillips.

Consumer-generated data is one significant challenge in legislation and education related to privacy, as it isn’t yet protected. Additionally, the long-term impact of tracking and sharing one’s health data through social networks isn’t fully understood.

Data breaches in the healthcare field have already proven that people’s medical histories, social security numbers, and addresses are vulnerable. Cloud technology paired with monitoring devices is giving healthcare providers access to real-time data, and a lot of it. This improves the quality of care, but comes with severe breach risks. While legal understanding catches up to the reality of big data, healthcare providers need to go above and beyond legal requirements to protect patient privacy.

Consumer-Generated Data

The risks of consumer-generated data haven’t been fully explored, but what we do know is that sharing health data online is “a digital tattoo.” That data follows users, is unregulated, can be sold to third parties, and used by hackers or identity thieves.

Platforms like Fitbit and Facebook are just the tip of the iceberg for providers. Wearable technology is allowing patients to receive real-time information and communication from professionals and gives providers access to a constant flow of actionable health information. That relationship evolves with each new innovation, but responsibilities concerning its collection and use haven’t been explored.

Breach Risks

In September of 2013, Advocate Medical Group suffered one of the largest data breaches in history. Four million records, including names, addresses, and social security numbers were taken by hackers.

As new services are introduced, and hackers develop new ways to subvert security, it can be difficult to keep employees up-to-date. An improperly trained employee might fall for a phishing email, accidentally use an unsecured app or cloud service with their personal mobile device, or share login information that enables access to private records. In 2016, 60 percent of all patient information breaches were due to hacking, but not all hacks are the direct cyber-attacks we tend to think of. An employee opening the wrong email and clicking the link is a far easier way for a hacker to gain access than, for example, a brute force password crack.

Refusal to Share

Many patients may not realize it, but one threat to their security can occur if a healthcare provider refuses to share their information. Information blocking can come in many forms, such as prohibitive pricing, contracts that block users from accessing their information, and business practices intended to exclude competitors and prevent referrals.

These alleged practices put additional financial burdens on patients and compromise their privacy by restricting access to their own records. Many of America’s biggest vendors and healthcare providers have signed onto a pledge to combat this practice, but it has yet to be put into law.

The advent of rapidly evolving mobile technology is presenting new possibilities in data collection and improving the quality of patient care. On the other hand, the sparks of innovation are vulnerable to attack and mismanagement by unscrupulous business practices. It’s important for healthcare providers to invest in data security and breach recovery contingencies, as well as develop best practices to prevent misuse.

Author bio:

Avery Phillips is a freelance human who loves all things nature (especially humans!). Comment down below or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or comments.