Telehealth: Meeting the demands of the tech-savvy healthcare consumer
Healthcare in America is changing, and changing rapidly. One factor driving this change is the dramatic shift in consumer behavior. Smart phones, virtual office environments, and constant social media interaction with consumer brands are just a few examples of new consumer expectations – and opportunity – for the health care industry.
How can the healthcare industry better interact on a real-time basis with patients in a way that adapts to these new consumer behaviors and serves their patients with quality care? Telehealth. Telehealth is the provision of high-quality, real-time video encounters between patients and providers, enabling care anytime, anywhere, on any type of device – be it a web browser, a mobile phone or tablet, or a standalone kiosk.
But the advantages of telehealth extend beyond a response to these new consumer demands, it can also provide the “three c’s of care” that are potentially needed the most: continuous, collaborative and cost-effective care.
For example, patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes can receive more frequent check-ins to make sure their treatments regimens are effective. Telehealth can enable patients and physicians to collaborate with specialists remotely, reducing wait time and helping patients regardless of where they live. More frequent patient check-ins can help drive prevention of more serious conditions and reduce wait times. This improved access can mean greater cost efficiencies.
So how can a healthcare provider put telehealth into practice in a way that fits their needs and those of their patients? As with many large-scale implementations, a telehealth solution requires a well-coordinated design and execution effort, which can be summarized in six steps:
Step 1: Developing a governing structure
To create a streamlined telehealth program, a hospital needs to determine who will be in charge of the program and where it fits in the structure of the existing hierarchy, which can be done in three phases:
First, a healthcare system should examine its current program and propose an initial operating plan that assigns responsibilities to existing and potentially new governing bodies. Second, this plan must be socialized while additional staffing needs are outlined. Third, the plan should be finalized and allow the governing bodies to begin their own telehealth decision-making.
Step 2: Assessing your needs and capabilities
Completing a needs assessment includes two analyses: a scoping analysis and a sequencing analysis. By using both analyses, a hospital can better understand its needs and how they could be addressed by telehealth.
The scoping analysis determines which telehealth capabilities should be implemented, while the sequencing analysis determines the order by which telehealth capabilities could be rolled out at facilities.
Step 3: Understanding telehealth’s technology needs
Creating a secure and cutting-edge platform for telehealth is a critical component. Because of the amount of sensitive patient information, the platform should be both HIPAA and PCI compliant.
Additionally, the platform must match patient with providers in real time so that care is being provided whenever it is needed. It is important to consider how a telehealth platform integrates into a facility’s IT infrastructure. Choosing a platform that integrates easily can mean less down time during integration and an easier to update system for IT staff.
Step 4: Creating a quality care experience
Providing continuity of care is paramount to a patient’s experience, regardless of where or how that care is provided. Utilizing the National Standards for Health Information Exchange can help provide secure transport methods for sharing patient information. This approach can enable a quality transition of care seeing that each clinical encounter makes it into the patient’s record.
Step 5: Training and support
Because telehealth is different from traditional medicine, training is critical. In-person and online training classes can help physicians and their staff feel comfortable using the technology, understand its benefits, and how it can enable patient care.
Step 6: Outreach strategies
And last, but perhaps most importantly, patients should be brought along on this journey to learn how telehealth can be an alternative to in-person care visits. You should consider possible “points of resistance” from populations that may be averse to the idea – it is a culture shift for many people. Understanding and addressing these concerns ahead of time can help smooth the transition.
As Gen Xers and Millennials age, their participation in the healthcare system will likely increase, putting more emphasis on tech-enabled communication and engagement in their care. Telehealth is one technology solution that can help the healthcare industry meet these growing expectations along with the capability to provide continuous, collaborative and cost effective care to patients.