6 key takeaways on health system telemedicine integration

More and more hospitals are looking to a science fiction staple of days gone by as a kind of skeleton key to the evolution of patient care — telemedicine. Although some large health systems have adopted robust telemedicine programs, and a number of startup companies are pushing their own brand of the product, healthcare is still in the early days of integration.

A panel of experts at the Becker's Hospital Review 7th Annual Meeting in Chicago on April 28 discussed barriers, boons and the general state of telemedicine integration for hospitals. Experts included Dan Kinsella, a leading CIO consultant; Alan Papa, president and CEO of Akron (Ohio) General Health System; and Alan Roga, MD, senior vice president and general manager of Teladoc's provider market.

Here are six takeaways from the panel. 

1. There are a variety of factors driving the use and adoption of telehealth by health systems large and small. The three primary drivers — which can also act as challenges — are market demand, financial pressures and legislation. On the market side, hospitals are turning to telemedicine as a way to meet consumers where they want to be met, which is how other industries have adapted to delivering their respective products, by allowing consumers to choose where the services are rendered. Financially and legislatively, the ACA has shifted risk onto hospitals, and telemedicine is a way for them to produce better results while seeing more patients at a faster pace. 

2. Hospitals looking to adopt a "patient first" mentality are turning to telemedicine. Telemedicine visits, which are usually offered at a standard flat fee, are often more affordable for patients and hospitals. Access is also a very important component, both in the sense of enabling patients to access a physician anytime through a smartphone, and in the sense that telemedicine enables clinicians to reach patients at a distance, particularly those for whom travel to a hospital on a weekly basis for necessary follow-ups or check-ins would be costly and is not feasible. 

3. A telemedicine program is a better use of capital than building brick and mortar facilities in new markets, only to find that they aren't generating enough financially to warrant staying open. 

4. Although a lack of widespread reimbursement from payers is, at the moment, a concern for some CIOs looking to adopt programs, twenty-nine states currently have parity models in place — and that number is increasing. 

5. Bandwidth and privacy are still important points for hospitals to keep in mind when looking into telemedicine. Maintaining data integrity and safeguarding protected health information are key. Among physicians in a hospital network, this type of security can be almost guaranteed using direct messaging, but the same guarantee between patients and clinicians in two separate locations is currently harder to make.

6. For those who are planning an implementation, defining a strategy is paramount. Rather than looking at a telemedicine platform as an addition piece of software, view it as a solution to specific problems that are outlined ahead of time. Telemedicine touches numerous service lines in a health system and all of those elements, from logistics to nursing and facilities and pharmacy, should have a say in what value they expect from telemedicine.



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