How telehealth can help organizations beat the competition


The healthcare industry is still feeling out the effects of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but there are a handful of trends that have clearly emerged.

First, the number of Americans who have health insurance is growing. In just the first three months of 2014, the number of uninsured Americans fell by 3.8 million, reducing the percentage of those without health insurance to 13.1 percent, which is 1.3 percent lower than the 2013 average.

Second, patients are becoming champions of their own health and are taking the reins when it comes to their healthcare.

Couple these two trends together, and a case for an alternative approach to care presents itself: telemedicine.

The growing implementation of telemedicine and subsequent strategy was the topic of discussion in a recent webinar hosted by Becker's Hospital Review and presented by American Well.

"Telehealth is not an entirely new concept, but certainly the urgency and intention is growing," said Madhavi Kasinadhuni, a senior consultant with The Advisory Board Company. She said the portion of the provider business that is increasingly becoming patient-directed is growing, which makes sense, given the proliferation of similar approaches in other industries.

"When we think about online banking, Uber, Netflix, these on-demand, immediate services that patients are experiencing in the rest of their lives, it's not a big surprise that they're concerned with on-demand care," she said.

What's more, the provider side of healthcare is gaining pressure from disruptive competitors who are filling the on-demand niche; namely retail clinics.

"Retail clinics continue to explode nationwide," Ms. Kasinadhuni said. "Seeing them come from organizations that have not traditionally played in healthcare, they are more in-depth and well-positioned to respond to consumer demands. They know a lot more than we do about consumers. Think about all the data associated with a company like Walmart."

However, she continues, even retail clinics aren't the pinnacle of easy access anymore. "Increasingly, on-demand is not the walk-in clinic. It's not the emergency department. It's online," she says.

And, telehealth presents the opportunity to deliver this on-demand access to the consumer.

Another strong driver toward telemedicine is the increasing competition for primary care services, said Peter Antall, MD, medical director of American Well. "For health systems, telehealth offers the ability to meet the demand [of maintaining existing patients and acquiring new ones] without placing bets on brick and mortar facilities throughout the community," he said, a direct way for systems to contain costs.

While the demand and use of telehealth services are rising, Joseph Briggs, vice president of professional services at American Well, said healthcare leaders around the world are still developing an understanding of what telehealth can offer.

He outlined four focus areas for successful telehealth deployment that ensure both patients and providers reap the maximum benefit from the service: the technology, clinical workflow, clinical services and patient engagement.

Mr. Briggs said every healthcare organization should first consider a handful of elements as "absolute requirements" for telehealth providers, such as HIPAA-compliance and Department of Defense-grade security. Other considerations, he said, include whether the telehealth provider also offers a mobile app or a kiosk, and whether the majority of visits utilize video functionality.

Clinical workflow
Implementing new telehealth technology within the constraints of the organization's existing practice is critical, Mr. Briggs said. "It's important to have telehealth partners that work with your staff and find processes to make life easier," he said. "The ideal telehealth partner understands that it is extremely important to engage everyone who's involved in telehealth. That way, telehealth becomes an extension of an organization’s care delivery processes.

Clinical services
"Often times, the logistics of simply running the telehealth practice are overlooked,” Mr. Briggs said. "Discussions about staffing and provider coverage of the telehealth services are critical, and it's key to find a telehealth partner that provides expertise and resources to bridge any potential staffing gap."

Patient engagement
Healthcare providers should make an effort to communicate regularly telehealth services.   Mr. Briggs suggested using resources such as the organization's website and patient portal to spread awareness about the telehealth services to engage both existing and new potential patients. In addition, post-visit surveys are an ideal way to determine whether patients approve of a telehealth service.

Download the webinar presentation slides here. View the webinar by clicking here. We suggest you download the video to your computer before viewing to ensure better quality. If you have problems viewing the video, which is in Windows Media Video format, you can use a program like VLC media player, free for download here.

Note: View archived webinars by clicking here.

More articles on telehealth:

How much can telemedicine save Medicare?
Walgreens app now offers virtual consultations
Telehealth coverage policies by state

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