Efficiency gains through telehealth are maximized when technology is implemented broadly across an organization
By Mike Baird, MBA
We see lots of data that advocates the value of telehealth. There are figures from the Alliance for Connected Care that say the average telehealth visit saves $126. Several hospitals have boasted of positive outcomes for stroke patients through the use of telehealth systems that rapidly connect patients to neurologists. And we recently worked with one hospital system that reduced the ED wait time from 2.5 hours to just 30 minutes through telehealth.
But while better outcomes, streamlined operations and cost savings demonstrate how telehealth aligns nicely with current value-based initiatives, not everyone is ready to go all-in.
In early 2018, research firm Sage Growth Partners suggested in a survey of 98 healthcare decisionmakers that many of the 44 percent who have not yet adopted a telemedicine solution are skeptical about ROI. Healthcare decisionmakers are also worried about reimbursement, a top barrier to telehealth adoption cited by 41 percent of healthcare organizations surveyed for Avizia’s 2017 Closing the Telehealth Gap report.
Oftentimes, at the root of these fears is an inability to connect the supposed benefits of telehealth with the dominant mindset of “episodic” care. When someone first tries to envision telehealth, what often comes to mind is a random, unplanned video consult without defined structure or reimbursement.
But true system-wide telehealth is more than a video call. It embodies a healthcare experience that upholds the principles of value-based care, namely coordination, efficiency, and engagement, through the virtual delivery of care. When leveraged across an entire system, where healthcare providers share technology and workflow processes, it enhances care and expands access immensely.
Pursuing a system-wide strategy now, while the transition to value-based care is still largely underway and the opportunity for market leadership still exists, can make a huge difference in an organization’s outcomes, bottom line, reputation and more.
A system-wide strategy starts with a technology platform that is interoperable with EHRs, and can scale multiple use cases across an organization, supporting patients, providers, families and other stakeholders. But it goes far beyond a technology platform itself.
A system-wide telehealth strategy also encompasses clinical encounter guidelines, care coordination protocols, documentation procedures and more. These objectives vary based on an organization’s goals, but the overall objective is the same: To help a patient receive the best-possible care, anytime and anywhere, as efficiently as possible.
There are also significant economies of scale to be gained: When a technology system is implemented across an entire organization, healthcare leaders can benefit from standardized training procedures, helping a greater number of physicians learn and navigate a new system simultaneously. Having access to a system-wide platform allows all departments — beyond high-acuity use case specialties like neurology — to explore new use cases such as telepharma. One organization we work with recently discovered the vast benefits of incorporating telehealth into its medication-management clinical workflows. Moving consultations to a virtual care platform freed up dozens of hours of time for clinical and pharmacy staff.
To illustrate system-wide telehealth in action, let’s consider Patient X, a 50-year-old diabetic man who needs to connect with a doctor because he’s having a reaction to food he ingested. Patient X decides to connect to his healthcare provider’s on-call virtual care service through its system-wide telehealth platform through his phone’s video interface.
Immediately, someone answers his call and his medical records (including medication alerts and ED visit data), populate the screen while the healthcare provider listens to him and asks relevant questions. Since the virtual care provider is trained to conduct video-based consultations, she knows the importance of making eye contact with the camera to put the patient at ease. She can also send a direct message to the patient’s primary-care physician, asking about whether the patient has received treatment for one or more ongoing issues.
Once the next steps are decided (e.g., Benadryl and a scheduled follow-up visit), the physician can upload her notes on the visit into the EHR with the push of a button — as she would with an in-person consultation. This will make reimbursement and follow-up care easier.
If Patient X visits a specialist later on — whether virtually or in person — the prior visit and documentation is in the system and helps support care continuity for that patient.
While Patient X offers just one example of system-wide telehealth in action, but there are many taking place across the country every day. Of course, not all telehealth vendors offer the same system-wide capabilities or experience, so it’s important to consider multiple factors when evaluating platforms, including:
- A vendor’s reputation for partnering with healthcare organizations;
- safety and security protocols (e.g., HIPAA compliance, FDA registration, etc.);
- the platform’s ability to streamline clinical workflows and integrate with leading EHRs;
- advanced audio/video features (e.g., remote camera control, multi-party calls, etc.).
Telehealth can change lives and benefit healthcare organizations. But the impact is reflective of the investment. You can’t experience the benefits of technology without tapping into the right solutions in the first place. And you can’t fully engage in value-based care without embracing value. For these reasons, healthcare organizations should think bigger, and more broadly, about their telehealth strategy, and move towards system-wide implementation.