4 key elements to a great telemedicine system

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Increasingly, telemedicine is being utilized by healthcare providers to boost patient access to care. A report released by Foley and Lardner found that 90 percent of healthcare leaders reported their organizations have begun developing or implementing a telemedicine program.

However, not all telemedicine programs are designed the same or offer the same level of service. What's more, healthcare providers often attempt to assemble telemedicine systems on their own, reaching from disparate sources to create one offering, says Mike Baird, CEO of Avizia, an end-to-end telemedicine solutions provider.

"Historically, all the responsibilities for putting it together have been on their shoulders," Mr. Baird says. "It's very frustrating for them to find all these different vendors and piece together solutions where not everything may work seamlessly."

Avizia recently merged with Emerge.MD, a telemedicine software provider, creating what Avizia calls a "fully integrated telemedicine solution," bringing together the hardware and software solutions and implementation services needed for a telemedicine program in one suite of offerings.

Here, Mr. Baird outlines four key elements needed for a successful telemedicine program.

1. Collaboration tools. These are the devices that enable the hospital to connect patients with providers, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops or what Mr. Baird calls "video endpoints." These video endpoints, he says, have been the focus of many telemedicine offerings. "A lot of vendors in the space, have focused solely on video telemedicine carts of some form, but that's not enough to deliver a telemedicine solution."

2. Medical peripherals. Peripherals are the diagnostic tools used in telemedicine, such as otoscopes, ultrasound machines or digital stethoscopes. Coupling peripheral devices with collaboration tools and workflow software enables the delivery of high definition audio, video, images and data for caregivers to provide treatment and diagnosis from multiple locations. Ease-of-use and flexibility of peripherals are critical to support multiple service lines with the same devices.

3. Workflow. "Workflow is the ability to have full documentation for various subspecialties and modalities," Mr. Baird says. This means in addition to the telemedicine hardware (i.e., carts, medical peripherals), hospitals also need adequate software to manage the complete process of connecting patients to medical professionals and to integrate telemedicine with their existing IT resources, like EHR systems.

A telemedicine program should offer clinicians the necessary capabilities, such as secure messaging, store and forward capability, connection to EHRs and access to billing codes. In doing so, Mr. Baird says the only thing that is different between telemedicine and traditional in-person treatment is that the physician is in a different location than the patient. Everything else, workflow-wise, remains the same as an in-person consultation.

"Our aspiration for telemedicine is that it's no different from any other consult in the hospital," Mr. Baird says. "I shouldn't care if the doctor you want to see is on the third floor or in another facility 100 miles away. What matters to me is that I get you the right doctor at the right time in the right place, and that's what workflow does for us."

4. Cloud-based services. Traditionally, telemedicine systems have run on enterprise systems, costing healthcare organizations thousands of dollars to run just one telemedicine cart, Mr. Baird says. For large institutions, this isn’t an issue as they have large telemedicine programs. But as telemedicine expands to nursing homes and smaller clinics the expense can make telemedicine less feasible for smaller providers. Having a cloud-based service can save thousands of dollars, directly impacting a provider's bottom line.

"Providers who integrate telehealth will have a tremendous advantage in their markets," says Cory Costley, CTO of Avizia. "Telehealth is transforming care delivery. It is making care more efficient for providers and patients, it is a critical component of improving population health strategies, it lowers the cost of care by reducing visits, admissions and re-admissions, and it improves staff utilization. Said another way, telehealth will help providers connect to new and existing patients in new and efficient ways, enabling them to provide the highest quality of care regardless of the patient's location."

Avizia is an end-to-end telehealth solutions provider, connecting healthcare providers and patients and enabling collaboration for virtual care teams with the ultimate goal of better diagnoses and improved outcomes.

More articles on telemedicine:

Physicians use telemedicine to prevent spread of flu
Lafayette General launches telemedicine initiative in local schools
Mayo Clinic to offer telehealth services to local school employees

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