Becker's Healthcare Telehealth Virtual Forum: Tom Brazelton, Medical Director of Telehealth for the University of Wisconsin Health

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Tom Brazelton, MD, MPH, serves as Medical Director of Telehealth for the University of Wisconsin Health.

Dr. Brazelton will speak at Becker's Healthcare Telehealth Virtual Forum. As part of an ongoing series, Becker's is talking to healthcare leaders who plan to speak at the virtual event, which will take place on November 2-3, 2020.

To learn more about the conference and Dr. Brazelton's session, click here.

Question: What tools do hospitals and health systems need to maintain telemedicine growth post-pandemic?

Tom Brazelton: By “tools” do you mean technology or physical resources? I ask because I think what is really needed, first and foremost, is clear executive/senior leadership (1) commitment to pursue telemedicine as a valid and reliable care delivery system, not just a COVID-19-induced fad, and then (2) direction to put in place the needed administrative structure and “tools” to make that happen. Without those things, the tools and resources (human and otherwise) will continue to compete with other clinical niceties and not get the necessities they need. After that, reimbursement for telemedicine is needed because most health systems have taken the first steps but ongoing tech support, especially for patients and providers, is costly.

Q: What do clinicians want most from their telemedicine platforms?

TB: By far it’s “easy to use,” which means flexibility in choice of devices and location, synergy/seamlessness with the EHR, tech support at their fingertips, and the minimum of firewall/security issues (they really don’t want to bothered by those).

Q: Where is the biggest opportunity for telemedicine and how can hospitals and health systems best take advantage of it?

TB: What do you mean by “opportunity”? Financially? Clinically? And for who? Opportunity for the patient? Provider? Health system? I think everyone wins, quite frankly: patients get ready access to providers and health information at their fingertips, depending on the health system’s investment and openness; providers similarly have more flexibility, with the same caveats; referring providers have much more control, potentially, to access specialists in real-time, reducing wait times to see specialists and/or have procedures scheduled promptly; and health systems can significantly expand their footprint. Personally, I believe the biggest opportunity is for the chronic care population, allowing tighter control of their disease through closer partnerships with providers via home monitoring---this will no doubt facilitate more innovation into how to reach difficult to reach populations as we dig deeper into the social determinants of health.

Q: How can providers better navigate the digital divide to help vulnerable patient populations participate in virtual care?

TB: If I knew this answer, I could die happy, but my one word answer is “commitment”---digital health is here to stay, telemedicine is a care delivery model that must be embraced by all providers, they must commit to it the same way our health system executives must commit the resources and infrastructure to digital health. I have no doubt that when the medical community gets back on its feet after COVID-19 and turns its attention to innovation and improving a care delivery system that we all ran headlong into in a matter of days in March 2020, that we will better understand those gaps and address them---because it’s a lot more than “lack of access to broadband” or “health information in English only,” there’s been a systemic inattention to this population because of their vulnerability and inability to self-advocate collectively. We couldn’t tackle it with ACOs, are having trouble doing it with Next Gen, it’s got to come with improved technology and tech-savvy provider informaticists.

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