How to create successful telehealth programs: 2 IT experts weigh in

Hospitals and health systems across the nation are looking for ways to help make telehealth a revenue generator during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Setting telehealth programs up for long-term success was among the topics discussed during a session at the Becker's Telehealth Virtual Forum on Nov. 2. The panel included: 

  • Maia Hightower, MD, chief medical information officer of Salt Lake City-based University of Utah Health
  • Rebecca Canino, administrative director, office of telemedicine at Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Health System

Here's an excerpt from the conversation, edited for clarity. To view the full session on-demand, click here

Question: What are a few things healthcare providers can do today to set themselves up for long-term success with telehealth? 

Dr. Maia Hightower: Rebecca has already hinted at the digital divide and some of the differences that we're seeing with telehealth when it comes to adoption across our populations. I think that's incredibly important that we conscientiously have efforts to both measure that as well as ensure that the systems that we're putting into place equitably service all of our populations, and not favor one population over others. We already know health inequities are rampant in our healthcare system and so if we don't address it from the very beginning, right now or as soon as possible, then that divide only gets wider. For health systems that are getting started, just be very conscious that you're measuring and then have proactive, intentful programs to address the digital divide, whether it's signing up for your portal, having alternatives like telephone, making sure that your portal is available in different languages.

We find languages a big barrier. Of course, education can be a barrier. Access to smartphone versus laptop or desktop can be different barriers. So understanding that, and at the very minimum, measuring those differences so that we can address them systematically and through peer groups, such as we're having today.

Rebecca Canino: I echo that. That is huge for us. Our equity dashboard is almost ready and it's something that we're really looking at, and I think it needs to come from the top down through your health system to say, "This isn't about revenue. This is about equity." If phone calls aren't covered but that's what your patient needs, we're doing them, right? Really making it clear that we're here to serve and we want to make sure that we have access to everyone and that they have access to us. I think that's huge. 

On a practical note, as reimbursement is changing, as waivers are constantly coming out, you need to be ready to change quickly. Build your systems with change in mind. Now you have to get something up quickly and change it next week. Really build things, build your billing work queues, keeping everything as consistent as possible with the providers. They should be providing services regardless of reimbursement and you should be handling that on the back end. Make sure that they can do everything the same way, no matter how the payer requirements change. 

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