5 critical factors for a successful telehealth program

Three-quarters of U.S. hospitals either have consumer telehealth services in place or plan to implement the capability by the end of 2019, according to Teladoc's second annual state of consumer telehealth benchmark survey.

During a May 15 webinar, sponsored by Teladoc and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Alan Roga, MD, president of Teladoc's hospital and health systems division, presented key findings from the company's annual survey. Teladoc, the nation's leading telehealth solutions company, works with health systems, employers and insurers providing virtual care delivery services to more than 23 million members. The company's dedicated business unit for hospital and health system clients offers services including account management, marketing and technology support.

For the survey, Teladoc partnered with Becker's in 2017 to poll nearly 300 C-suite executives and directors from hospitals of various sizes across the U.S. about their experiences with telehealth and priorities for the next year. Nearly half of the hospitals represented — 45 percent — first implemented their telehealth program one to three years prior to the survey.

"It's very hard for hospitals to figure out the consumer telehealth space," Dr. Roga said during the webinar. "People typically have to go out to market, talk to the vendors, issue requests for information … this survey [provides] data, through your peers, on their thoughts on telehealth."

Here are five components survey participants cited as critical factors for a successful telehealth program.

1. Secure physician buy-in (67 percent). Physician buy-in is increasingly critical to a telehealth program's success, as more than half of hospital executives — 57 percent — reported staffing their telehealth services with their own providers in 2017, a 36 percent increase from Teladoc's survey the previous year.

Dr. Roga attributed this shift to an increase in physician comfort with telehealth and more hospitals relying on telehealth for complex specialty care. "There was a concern early on around outcomes," he explained. "Physicians are starting to see that telehealth is very high-quality care. In addition, having a telehealth encounter is certainly better than having no patient encounter."

2. Engage leadership (65 percent). To lay the foundation for a successful telehealth program, Dr. Roga emphasized hospital leaders should create a multiyear, comprehensive roadmap for their telehealth strategy, rather than rushing to implement a few disparate use cases. "We're big believers in crawl, walk, run," Dr. Roga said.

The recent expansion of the hospital IT C-suite beyond the CIO is indicative of growing telehealth engagement from leadership. "Director of telehealth is very common now," he explained. "A lot of systems are putting that person in place to manage not only the consumer telehealth program, but also telestroke, teleICU and the other telehealth programs. That's emerging as a best practice."

3. Align with organization (63 percent). The most successful telehealth programs align their service's value drivers with their hospital's strategic goals, according to Dr. Roga. "It's taking a step back and saying, 'What matters to our system?'" he said, noting these goals might relate to a range of issues, including access, growth or finance improvement.

Hospital executives participating in the survey cited improving care (60 percent), reducing wait times (38 percent) and managing at-risk patients (33 percent) as their top telehealth goals. "Organizations that look at [telehealth] as, 'It's cool software, let me figure out what I can do with it,' are less successful,'" Dr. Roga said.

4. Operational support (54 percent). Operational support ranked within the top four most-desirable attributes in a telehealth vendor, with 40 percent of respondents rating it as a key feature. Last year, operational support — which comprises upkeep functions like technical, documentation and billing support — didn't make the list.

"It's wonderful to see people are really starting to understand that," Dr. Roga said. A hospital might initially think a telehealth program only needs patients, providers and a video solution — but having software support is key when it comes to execution. "When a patient can't log in at 2 a.m., who's going to do technical support and troubleshooting?"

5. Drive adoption (45 percent). To successfully drive patient adoption, hospitals must think critically when selecting and marketing to their target population.

Executives have started to realize this, reporting significant reduction in direct-to-consumer telehealth initiatives. The majority of hospital executives — 68 percent — indicated their telehealth programs focus on existing patient populations, followed by 62 percent of respondents who said their programs target their own employees.

"Messaging to populations that know you is much easier than messaging to populations that you don't," Dr. Roga explained.

Listen to the webinar recording here. View the webinar slides here.

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