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A deep dive into telemedicine goals and challenges: Part two

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Steve McGraw, Chief Executive Officer, REACH Health

In Part One of our series, we took a look at the evolution of the telemedicine industry and discussed findings from the annual U.S. Telemedicine Benchmark Survey. Two key findings: nearly two-thirds of respondents said telemedicine was a top priority, and providers are rapidly expanding the number of service lines offered.

Today, we’re going to look closely at what healthcare organizations hope to achieve with telemedicine, key factors to make those goals a reality and the overall challenges within the industry.

Telemedicine objectives: It’s all about the patients

Among survey participants, including executives, physicians and nurses, the most common telemedicine objectives focused on patients. Improving patient outcomes (96 percent), improving patient convenience (87 percent) and increasing patient engagement and satisfaction (86 percent) occupied the top three positions.

With the healthcare industry’s focus on improving patient care and hospitals in competitive geographies vying for patients, perhaps these results are not surprising. Here’s how other objectives broke out:

  • Providing remote/rural patients with access to specialists (83 percent);
  • Improve usage and efficiency of limited physician resources (81 percent);
  • Improving specialist efficiency (69 percent);
  • Reduce readmissions (69 percent); and
  • Improve image in the local community (64 percent)

Improving financial performance came in at 57 percent, just above supporting research and clinical trials. These results seem to indicate that patient satisfaction is recognized for driving increased ROI, but the primary motives for improving satisfaction may not be financially driven.

Success factors: Dedicated support

Having objectives for a telemedicine program is crucial, but what are the proven success factors to make them a reality? We asked survey participants to rate their success with achieving the telemedicine objectives they previously identified.

According to respondents, one of the most important keys to success is the designation of a full-time, dedicated program coordinator. In fact, telemedicine programs with dedicated managers are 43% more likely to be highly successful than those with a coordinator that spends less than half of his or her time focused on the program.

Other factors that contributed to success include executive-level support and adequacy of funding, although the impact of C-level champions is more than double that of funding. This isn’t surprising since hospital leadership is actively seeking ways to find well-documented improvements across services lines and affiliated hospitals.

Challenges: Reimbursement and EMR systems

Like any evolving industry, the adoption, management and success of telemedicine have encountered challenges.

The survey found that telemedicine reimbursement, both government and private, posed the primary obstacle to success. In fact, it accounted for the top three unaddressed challenges, specifically managed-care (80 percent), Medicare (78 percent) and Medicaid (77 percent)reimbursements.

EMR-related challenges were also cited by respondents, including the lack of EMR capabilities (65 percent), integration (66 percent) and common systems within hub and spoke hospitals (66 percent). In many hospitals, EMR systems of record seem to be more of a hindrance than an enabler of the clinical point-of-care needs of telemedicine. There is clearly a high demand in the industry for integration, specifically the two-way flow of individual data elements between telemedicine platforms and EMR systems.

While “physician compensation” was listed as another highly ranked challenge (59%), “physician acceptance” improved drastically compared to the 2015 survey and has since dropped down the list. Amidst other telemedicine challenges faced by providers, “patient acceptance” is also relatively strong and correspondingly low in the ranking of issues.

In spite of the ongoing challenges, hospitals are continuing to actively plan, implement and expand their telemedicine programs.

In our next article for the series, we’ll explore the top contributors for reaching ROI with a telemedicine program, look at the maturity status of U.S. programs (by organization and service line) and discuss an enterprise approach to telemedicine. If you’d like to access the survey in full, it is available for free download here.

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