12 Elements to Support a Viable Health IT and Telehealth Infrastructure

Health information technology has essentially become a requirement for all niches of healthcare — rural, urban, state, local, federal and everything in between — and it's evident that a strong health IT infrastructure will help providers transition into the new era of stronger quality care.

The Oregon Health Network is one example of an organization that is trying to assist local providers in health IT implementation, especially within the telehealth realm. OHN received a subsidy of more than $20 million through the Federal Communications Commission's Rural Health Care Pilot Program, and it aims to improve the disparity and quality of care for Oregon's geographically and economically diverse population through telehealth promotion. Kim Lamb, executive director of OHN, says hospitals and other providers are going to be instrumental in keeping these types of health IT infrastructures strong, and for hospitals' communities to thrive in the dawn of telehealth, there are 12 key elements providers of all types and sizes, including hospitals, must address to experience the full benefits of strong health IT.

1. Strategy and vision. Ms. Lamb says health IT solutions need common goals in order to become mainstream and successful, and those goals come in the form of the "triple aim." "If we are trying to implement the next generation of healthcare, we need to get behind the triple aim — enhanced patient experience, improved population health and cost reduction," Ms. Lamb says. Health IT strategies must also be created with those three missions in mind, she adds.

2. Collaboration. The OHN is collaborating with healthcare providers and supporting organizations across the state on how to make Oregon more integrated and reduce the disparity of care. In order for the entire nation to become integrated, Ms. Lamb says the FCC, CMS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology must continue their support regarding meaningful use of electronic health records, Regional Extension Centers and other telemedicine services for hospitals and other providers. Additionally, hospitals and providers must take advantage of the resources afforded to them to support the required national momentum.

3. Connectivity. Telehealth and health IT networks do not create themselves. Ms. Lamb says statewide health networks like the OHN are like the highways of telehealth, and no one can drive anywhere unless the highways are able to support the future healthcare delivery system and are well-connected. Similarly, hospitals and providers need to have solid connections on their side if telehealth is a serious feature of their future plans. "We need to have a means to physically deliver high-speed, high-quality infrastructure that can support current and future applications," Ms. Lamb says. "You don't have value if you don't have a means to connect centers of excellence and specialists to a rural community."

4. Implementation.
The physical implementation of these IT networks and supporting systems requires another set of niche expertise to select the appropriate technologies, process and outcomes to serve the primary strategy and plan. "There is implementation expertise needed for many of the health IT best practice areas," Ms. Lamb says. "Don't ask an electronic medical record specialist to take on your telehealth program planning and deployment efforts. Many times, they're entirely different experience and skill sets."

5. Information. Hospitals must remember that EHRs are not the sole component of the nation's broad health IT framework. They are just part of solution that focuses on delivering correct information to patients, which leads to higher quality care. "Health IT is not about electronic medical records; it's about getting the right information to the right person at the right time," Ms. Lamb says.

6. Support. Hospitals never take a break for patient care, and now the same will be required of broadband connections and other mediums for telehealth. Ms. Lamb says that broadband connections, as well as all the programs and services that run on them, must be maintained at all hours of the day as well at both ends, which will require more resources and potentially more staff.

7. Measurement. To make sure hospitals, providers and health IT organizations are adhering to the "triple aim," Ms. Lamb says they should measure certain metrics and compare them to those goals. These metrics should show whether health IT efforts have been successful, such as EHR data improving population health or telemedicine data showing cost savings.

8. Education. Technology is an area that not only improves frequently — it strives to improve frequently. Hospitals that interact with telehealth must engage all users involved to be up-to-date on all technological components. Ms. Lamb suggests in-person trainings and other hands-on materials because everyone from staff members to the patient community absorbs information differently.

9. Recruitment and retention. The demand for health IT professionals has risen exponentially in the past few years. Hospitals must be able to meet the demand through strategic health IT staffing and training, she says.

10. Credentialing and privileging. Health IT and telehealth promotes "care without borders," Ms. Lamb says. Hospitals, physicians and other providers need this type of consultation without limitations, and this will involve the reshaping of old credentialing and privileging policies.

11. Reimbursement. Assuring that physicians and clinicians are reimbursed for the work they do via telemedicine is essential to make sure healthcare is delivered to areas that need it — and to retain the talented staff that performs the telemedicine functions.

12. Policy. Providers must advocate for coordination at the federal and state levels to support the entire healthcare IT continuum, Ms. Lamb says.

Related Articles on Health IT:

10 Best Practices for Securing Protected Health Information
7 Recent Studies on Benefits, Risks of Health IT
Report: Global Telehealth Market to Top $1B by 2016

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