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How to progress along the telehealth maturity model

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Ed Simcox, US Healthcare Practice Leader, Logicalis Healthcare Solutions

There are reasons why the healthcare industry has been conservative when it comes to the adoption of new technologies. The stakes are high and budgets are tight. Nevertheless, forward-looking healthcare organizations are enthusiastically embracing telehealth to enhance and extend the scope of patient care within their communities in a way that also supports their long-term business objectives and sustainability.

Adoption of telehealth has been varied across the healthcare industry and falls into three maturity levels. You don’t necessarily have to proceed through each level in succession. The best way to progress along your own telehealth transformation journey, however, is to first understand where you are today.

Level one is an ad-hoc telehealth solution often cobbled together to support the narrow, urgent need of a small group of clinicians and patients.

At this level of maturity, telehealth solutions tend to be implemented for, if not by, a specific department within a hospital, often funded with limited grant funding, and often outside the purview of the organization’s IT department or the organization’s administrative leadership. This may be the most exciting and honest form of telehealth as clinicians come up with a creative way to use telehealth to meet a specific need and go do it. These stand-alone solutions, however, are generally not scalable, nor interoperable with other clinical and administrative systems. Most will eventually need a re-design to be integrated into other critical systems.

The drive to progress to level two usually comes when clinicians recognize the limits of their ad hoc solutions, want IT support, and want to enhance their capabilities and integrate them with other departments to expand their usefulness and facilitate integrated workflow. 

Level two involves a departmental telehealth strategy that is more rationalized, standardized and programmatic.

Telehealth solutions begin to proliferate at this level as clinicians in different departments find their own innovative ways to use the technology to meet their needs. Departmental or service-line leadership groups are also actively involved as stakeholders. This is also the level in which the organization’s administration realizes that not all new telehealth solutions meet the same quality and security standards or contribute quantifiably to the bottom line. Higher level administrators typically begin to be more actively involved at this point, conducting assessments to identify all the instances of telehealth, and beginning to establish some governance to rationalize and coordinate existing telehealth use.

Organizations are not ready to progress to level three until they fully understand where they are, can visualize where they want to be and develop a strategy to get there, progressing incrementally along a path that is aligned with their organization’s long-term goals and objectives.  

Level three is a clinically-integrated, sustainable, program-based telehealth solution that enables advanced data exchange between healthcare providers, patients, labs, pharmacies and family caregivers.

Level three telehealth is a strategic initiative typically led or sponsored by a hospital or system-level VP or C-level executive and supported by a multidisciplinary telehealth team. Formal governance is common and handled by a governance committee. Standards and protocols are deployed, ensuring the integration of telehealth solutions to critical systems including electronic health records (EHR), patient scheduling, billing, pharmacy, and labs.

Telehealth solutions at this level are “programs” and are typically integrated into the organization’s IT infrastructure including data center, cloud and mobile environments. HIPAA and PCI compliance is enforced, data analytics is available. Backup, business continuity and disaster recovery systems are in place.

Level three is also the point at which telehealth is truly transformational. At level three, telehealth is user-friendly, automated, and able to leverage integrated electronic patient information. Ideally, the technology solution dissolves away between the patient and the clinician, leaving telehealth the de facto model for patient interactions. “Telehealth” becomes known simply as “healthcare.” 

The telehealth transformation journey

There are many steps along the telehealth transformation journey to the realization of the full potential of telehealth to extend and enhance care to your community of patients and do it in a way that supports the wellbeing of your healthcare organization. There is no one size to fit all, nor is there one right way to proceed. Every organization’s journey is unique.

The maturity model outlined above is meant to help organizations evaluate their telehealth programs to ensure they are a proper fit. As with all the other changes that have been thrust on the healthcare industry in recent years, each organization needs to find its own way consistent with its values and sustainable with its resources.

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