Practices that can Lead to the Adoption of Telehealth Services

By CIOReview | Friday, July 8, 2016

From parental security apps to digital classrooms and social networking platforms, technology has glaringly enhanced the interaction quotient across industries, including healthcare. The health sector had constantly been under the purview of information technology and with the arrival of telemedicine, customary in-person medical practices are witnessing a huge shift. As the telemedicine network is growing, doctors are expanding their footprint by connecting even to those patients who have historically been deprived of proper medical services.

Clearly, telemedicine can deliver value in healthcare by allowing patients living in rural areas to make appointments with specialist doctors in different states. Now with the Supreme Court upholding Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), the mist of ambiguities surrounding the regulatory approval and adoption of telemedicine has also disappeared. Following are some of the best practices for a successful implementation of the telemedicine initiative.

Setting up an Implementation Panel: Healthcare organizations should create a panel under CIOs to administer the implementation of telemedicine practices; the role of this committee will be crucial in the integration of current medical operations with the latter. According to Kevin Abel, CEO of Lake Chelan Community Hospital, the member panel should not be limited to IT professionals and administration staffs but should also have physicians in the key positions. This steering committee will be tasked with creating goals and objectives of the telemedicine program along with project plan, policies and procedures. It should also act as the center for all internal communications and supervise the coordination between hospital and patient.

Physician Headships: Apart from CIO, the telemedicine implementation panel should also have senior physicians known for their commitment to improving patient services. Such a committed leadership with problem solving skills will persuade other medical staffs of the organization to initiate telemedicine practices. The leadership should also identify those medical staffs, who are capable of establishing a seamless interaction between a patient and physician. They should train the selected medical staffs to address the problems of patients and provide them an experience much similar to an in-person visit.

Inter-organizational Collaboration: Of all the challenges faced in the implementation of telemedicine, the most significant would be to bring together different healthcare organizations. A mechanism, if put into practice could benefit telemedicine networks to the highest degree. When professionals from different organizations collaborate, they form virtual teams with multidisciplinary skill sets that enhance diagnosis and treatment methods.

But the reticent nature of today’s healthcare market proves to be an obstacle in collaborative efforts. "In health sector everyone is protective of their services and their patients," says Doug Lawrence, Vice President of Client Services at Healthcare Anywhere LLC, a telehealth company. "For example, organizations can be protective of the patient images they periodically store on a cloud system."  According to Lawrence, patients in rural areas may not be able to reap the benefits of telemedicine with a complete lack of collaborative efforts.

Reliable Services: Monitors, video cameras, diagnostic equipments and speakers are some of the main components involved in a telehealth solution. Therefore, it is obvious that an unsystematic approach in coalescing would lead to serious risks in critical areas. Healthcare organizations have the option of choosing consumer based equipments that are user-friendly, but most of them are highly priced. Often the downsides of these solutions go unnoticed which include security and reliability issues.

On the other hand, they can procure business grade components that are tailored to meet specific demands. Choosing this option by itself doesn’t guarantee an effective implementation, and proper training should be provided to the telemedicine practitioners. A general rule would be to collect feedbacks on technology and services from peer organizations who have implemented telemedicine services, before finalizing.

Availability of Systems and Network: The availability of databases and systems and an uninterrupted network are vital for any telemedicine solution to sustain. Bandwidth being the most important component of a network must be given serious consideration. It is obvious how disturbing a video conferencing session would become if visual or lip synchronization errors barge in. Therefore, healthcare organizations must mandate the use of efficient codecs and applications, and establish failover options to enhance transmission capabilities.

The maintainability of the systems and networks is a key determinant in telemedicine success. No technological solution works perfect all the time, but how fast an organization can resolve the problem and handle the situation is what counts. A best practice is to set up a backup telehealth workstation to ensure uninterrupted services in the event of a system failure.

Building Community Support: It is the community around a hospital that contributes to the success of any medical service. With the community being unconvinced with telemedicine solutions, all other efforts to implement the same would prove ineffectual. Creating awareness among the members of the community and educating them about the benefits associated with telemedicine would definitely call for adoption.

Disaster Preparedness: Before implementing the telemedicine services, health organizations should test them under various adverse situations. Mock drills may help to understand whether clinical staffs are informed with any of the recent changes in equipment usage and procedures. It has to be conducted on a regular basis to ensure their readiness towards emergencies such as system breakdowns, internet failure or even natural disasters. “You cannot prevent disasters or technological issues, but you can prepare for them by practicing” says Ross Hurd, CIO of LCCH. "Practice is neither expensive nor difficult. It could save your hospital's telemedicine services down the road," he adds.