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By Bret Larsen
When COVID-19 hit, healthcare providers turned to their EHR vendors to rapidly scale their virtual care capabilities, with many using two-way video only approaches. Results were mixed at best. Now healthcare providers are moving from these fragmented and tactical solutions to establishing long-term, enterprise-wide strategic approaches to virtual care. In the pandemic, healthcare leaders across the nation quickly learned the difference between video visits and virtual care and are now seeking out partners to provide new solutions to help them quickly pivot.
With hundreds of telehealth vendors to choose from, sifting through the options is a daunting task. Gartner, the world’s leading research and advisory company, recently published a report that we believe can help inform the decision-making process. The company’s 2020 Market Guide for Virtual Care Solutions is an indispensable resource to help CIOs and healthcare leaders develop virtual care strategies and guide the procurement and vendor selection process.
The report names 20 Representative Vendors out of the sea of hundreds of telehealth companies in the marketplace. Representative Vendors provide solutions that support the delivery of high-quality clinical care, improve patient access and convenience, reduce the cost of care delivery and help healthcare providers attract and retain patients.
All of these features are essential for a successful virtual care platform. But how do you know which solution is right for your organization? Here are 5 important considerations to keep in mind as you vet vendor candidates and make your virtual care partner decision.
#1 — You and your provider should share a common vision for telehealth
Your telehealth partner’s vision influences everything about the way they design, execute and deliver their product. When you’re vetting potential telehealth partners, be sure to ask questions about their vision, mission and core values and make sure their answers line up with yours. Alignment is crucial and it should be fairly obvious — you know it when you feel it.
Good questions to assess long-term alignment include:
- What is your philosophy on virtual care?
- How do you see telehealth evolving in the next 5-10 years?
- How do you envision enabling virtual care in our organization?
- Why is virtual care important for your enterprise?
#2 – Look for an end-to-end enterprise-ready solution
Your organization needs a purpose-built, end-to-end platform covering all the steps in the virtual care workflow. The platform should virtualize every action including scheduling and intake, waiting room management, the virtual visit itself, ePrescribe and discharge, along with sophisticated analytics and reporting for enhanced business intelligence. Each step must integrate with the next, and customization is key.
Ask your potential vendors questions like this:
- How do you manage waiting room queuing and re-routing?
- Can I e-prescribe and collect payment with your technology?
- What analytics and reporting are available?
#3 – Find a partner that enables your provider network, not theirs
Some telehealth vendors come with their own provider networks. These providers will compete with your providers for patients through their health plan offerings, which runs counter to your business goals. What’s more, they might not be located in your state or in your network. They won’t be familiar with local healthcare resources, making them ill-suited to recommend follow-up care options. That can lead to gaps in the continuum of care.
Ask your short-listed telehealth vendors the following:
- Does your company offer direct-to-consumer remote care services to patients within our community?
- Do you make money on software or through providing direct-to-consumer healthcare services? If they cite both, ask them for their revenue mix.
- How can you help us expand our existing patient-provider relationships?
- How do you spend your technology investment dollars? Will you listen to our requests for new features and prioritize these in your product roadmap?
#4 – Seek out flexible clinical workflows
Your telehealth partner should offer virtual care solutions that are responsive to the patient’s needs, as well as support evolving use cases, changing clinical requirements and new business opportunities. You need a solution that can match your clinical workflow across a range of specialties, service lines and care offerings. If the workflow is hard coded, it should be a hard pass.
Be sure to ask a potential vendor partner:
- How does the technology support a variety of workflows, from urgent care and primary care to specialty care?
- Do I have to change our clinical workflows to fit into the hard-coded workflows in your technology?
- How do you handle multiple specialties that have unique intake questions?
#5 – Focus on ease of use
If your telehealth platform isn’t easy-to-use, it won’t get used and that’s common knowledge for just about any new technology shift or pivot in any industry or marketplace. We believe virtual care is healthcare and it will become commonplace and evolve to being just that in the near future.
One can recall the use of the term “telebanking” when ATM bank kiosks arrived on scene in the ‘80s. Now it’s just called banking and the majority of people do their banking online and on-the-go, from mobile devices. This way of banking took hold because of ease-of-use and as we pivot toward new patient care modalities and delivery models in healthcare, look for technology partners that provide tools and technology to enable patient care, not hamper it. Bells and whistles are great in a telehealth platform — as long as those features don’t create a lot of unnecessary “noise.” Teens and seniors alike need to feel comfortable using telehealth technology.
Be sure to ask a vendor candidate questions like these about ease-of-use:
- How many clicks does it take to connect the provider and patient? Ask them to show you with a demo.
- What’s your average patient experience rating?
- How do you enhance the provider experience?
- Where do patients typically get stuck in the process?
- What do providers find the most difficult about your technology?
It’s so essential for a telehealth vendor to learn what your organization’s telehealth priorities are, understand your strengths and opportunities for improvement, and bring a holistic approach to delivering a solution that enables your virtual care strategy and needs. During the vetting process, consider the questions your potential partners ask you, too. If you see a consultative sales approach and feel that they are looking out for your strategy, goals and success, that’s a great sign.
Bret Larsen is a Virtual Care Strategist, CEO and co-founder of eVisit, where he and his dedicated team are helping more than 100 hospitals and health systems –- including some of the largest healthcare enterprises in the U.S. — innovate in today’s challenging healthcare environment. eVisit is a Representative Vendor in the Gartner 2020 Market Guide for Virtual Care Solutions (26 October 2020, Sharon Hakkennes, Pooja Singh). To learn more about Gartner research and recommendations related to telehealth vendors, get your complimentary guide here.
Gartner Disclaimer: Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in our research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact.
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