Kickstarting your telehealth program: Making the first 100 days count

Daniel Olson, Group Vice President, Health Systems Solutions, American Well - Print  | 

With the combination of provider readiness, patient enthusiasm and expanded reimbursement, the timing for launching a telehealth program couldn’t be more favorable. 

But while every organization’s goals are different, the best practices that support a successful telehealth program are similar. What happens in the first 100 days sets the tone for a program’s longevity, as well as an organization’s ability to attract new patients and improve care. 

Here, we share six best practices from four of our health system clients — UW Health, Intermountain Healthcare, Avera Health and Aultman Hospital. 

1. Roll out at your own pace. Not every hospital or health system is ready for full systemwide implementation on day one. In fact, the timetable for technology rollouts varies, depending on an organization’s specific needs. For Aultman Hospital, a nonprofit hospital in Canton, Ohio that partnered with American Well to launch a post-acute care cardiology program, a phased telehealth rollout bestowed valuable lessons. For example, Aultman’s operational team worked with the technical team to thoroughly test the telehealth technology prior to launch, including on-site at the hospital and off-site at the skilled nursing facility. These tests took a lot of time, but were critical to ensuring a smooth rollout, and saving the organization time in the long run. Aultman also learned the importance in involving its legal department quickly in the implementation process to review agreements the organization put together with cardiology and the skilled nursing facility to ease rollouts. As the organization expands into telestroke in 2019, these experiences will undoubtedly prove invaluable. 

2. Support existing workflows. For telehealth to add value to an organization’s clinical program, it needs to be fully integrated into an organization’s existing workflows. When UW Health, the integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, went live with its direct-to-consumer urgent care telehealth service in 2017 in two of its urgent-care locations, leadership looked at visit data to determine the best time to staff the service. To provide patients with 24/7 care via telehealth, UW Health works with American Well’s Online Care Group, American Well’s online medical group, to cover the system outside of those 40 hours covered by UW Health providers.

3. Define KPIs. It’s important, particularly in the pre-launch phase, to define telehealth program key performance indicators (KPIs), and to properly measure these KPIs on an ongoing basis. When Avera Health, a fully integrated health system based in Sioux Falls, S.D., partnered with American Well to launch its direct-to-consumer telehealth service AveraNow in 2015, Avera quickly established three goals for its DTC urgent care program: 

Having these goals kept Avera focused; within 12 weeks of launching, the organization added more than 100 new patients to the Avera Health System, and saw success in keeping patients out of the ED. 

4. Get employees on board. Two months before its public launch, Intermountain rolled out its telehealth platform to employees. Its goals were twofold: To generate meaningful feedback (employees are the best critics of in-house initiatives) and to create buzz about the new program through word-of-mouth advertising. To market the program to its employees, Intermountain Healthcare, a nonprofit health system based in Salt Lake City, sent out emails, placed articles in internal newsletters, and used web banners and screen savers on the employee intranet and on computers. Having early employee feedback also proved invaluable.

5. Secure a physician champion. One of the key ways to encourage clinician buy-in of telehealth is having a physician champion to oversee the day-to-day aspects of implementation. At UW Health, this person is Dr. Tom Brazelton: In his role as medical director of telehealth, Brazelton is responsible for engaging fellow UW Health physicians, establishing clinical guidelines and protocols and being the clinical voice in the telehealth implementation process. He also regularly works to increase engagement in telehealth among providers by listening to their concerns and helping them adapt to using technology. Oftentimes, this means walking providers through using the platform and demonstrating how to diagnose and treat patients via video consultations. 

6. Build awareness through branding. When Intermountain started rolling out its telemedicine program, the organization found only 20 percent of people had ever heard of telehealth and only 10 percent had ever used it. But the organization also learned that branding was key to adoption: The percentage of people who were likely to use telehealth increased significantly when the service was associated with Intermountain Healthcare. To drive adoption, the Intermountain team leveraged the Intermountain brand by naming its telehealth service Intermountain ConnectCare.

Beyond the First 100 Days

Organizations that do their due diligence in the first 100 days will reap the benefits of telehealth quickly. But creating a lasting program with longevity doesn’t end on Day 101. Organizations should continually seek ways to improve their telepresence, while measuring and learning from the success of their efforts. 

At Intermountain Healthcare, for example, marketing extends beyond enrollment. Intermountain launched its telehealth program to employees, its insurance arm, SelectHealth, and then the public. The system then kept the buzz going by sending regular emails to enrollees to remind them of the service. This way, when patients are sick, Connect Care is always fresh in their minds as the first line of defense.

Organizations should also be open to feedback from employees, clinicians, patients, and even vendors. A successful telehealth program is a living, breathing entity that requires nurturing and commitment to flourish, providing ongoing value to all patients and stakeholders. 

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