Research shows that patients and physicians are ready for telehealth—and improved outcomes are being realized by healthcare facilities around the country. Physicians are leading the charge, but it’s time for executives and leaders of healthcare organizations to recognize the power of telehealth and to go all in.
So, what’s holding healthcare leaders back from mass adoption of telehealth solutions? As with any new technology, the challenges include influencing large-scale change, financing the effort, end-user patient adoption, and concerns over security and IT resourcing, and having enough focus to scale the initiative.
8 best practices
Like any other venture worth doing, the most important thing is just to start. Here are 8 best practices to lower barriers to taking the first step and scaling up your telehealth programs.
- Start small: Identify the biggest areas of constrained resources, with the largest proponents of live video consult. Application areas might include video rounds for traveling physicians or remote specialists, rural hospital consultations, skilled nursing care, rapid second opinions in ICU or ED, interpreter services, medical training, tele-sitting, or long-stay pediatrics. Start small. Choose one area where you can make the biggest impact and then build on your experience to scale to other areas of your practice.
- Identify critical features: Telehealth solutions run the gamut from something as basic as iPhone’s FaceTime to cumbersome, expensive telepresence devices. Seek out a simple and affordable solution that offers the ability for physicians to move around, zoom in, and snap photos that can then be uploaded to a patient’s health record. Some telepresence solutions also have a USB port for high powered auxiliary cameras for remote dermatological or wound care consultations. This solution should also allow a physician to log in without requiring a resource at the other end to receive the call so as to avoid the need for an additional person to schedule the use of the device or manage its logistics.
- Account for all costs: As mentioned above, telehealth solutions can be as basic or expensive as you’d like. However, to ensure the best ROI, ensure that the solution you choose includes the cost of the device, subscriptions, warranty, and support. This way, you won’t encounter any surprises down the line.
- Make good on reimbursements: Many states have restrictions on telehealth reimbursement policies, such as patient setting or origination site, technology type, geography, and provider type. Start with a small application that is certainly covered by reimbursements and then use the reimbursement from that application to scale up and purchase additional devices or licenses. And don’t forget about patient satisfaction—see #7 on how to education your patient population!
- Minimize reliance on your IT staff: We know that this is a time when hospital IT systems are proliferating, putting a big strain on IT departments. Reduce the workload for your staff by using an encrypted solution that connects simply over pre-existing WiFi networks.
- Turn clinical early adopters into solution champions: Look to your early adopter physicians and clinicians and turn them into promoters. The key here is making sure the solution is easy to learn, easy to use, and device agnostic. However, once those features are secured, those physicians on your staff who are already using telehealth technologies will be your best resources and advocates in scaling up your telehealth program across departments.
- Increase patient adoption through marketing: While most patients, especially those age 35 and younger, are ready for telehealth, a survey of 1,200 consumers found that 41% had never heard of telemedicine, indicating that public awareness of telehealth technologies may lag behind availability. ROI can only be achieved if you have a solution that is used and accepted by physicians and patients. As we’ve seen with patient self-service solutions, any technology that’s used for patient-facing communication must be well marketed. Use digital signage in waiting rooms, email marketing, and patient portals to educate patients about telehealth.
- Appoint a telehealth expert: To take their telehealth programs to scale, some early adopters of telehealth are creating a new role for a telehealth expert and advocate. By committing a resource to coordinating telehealth services, you are making a value statement and demonstrating to your patients and physicians that you’re serious about supporting improved patient satisfaction, reducing physician fatigue, and improving outcomes. For example, VUMC hired Liza Weavind, MBBCh, MMHC, professor of Anesthesiology and Surgery, to set up a teleICU system with partner systems. Her experience in the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston as the fourth teleICU medical director in North America in 2003 was the impetus for her recruitment to VUMC in 2007 to initiate a similar care paradigm. She is focused on setting up a nights and weekends model.
These eights steps can help your organization to reduce physician burnout, extend physician reach, improve outcomes, and gain a competitive edge in offering outstanding compassionate care.