Integrating telehealth with EHRs, other systems

Flexibility, adaptability, scalability and interoperability should always be the governing principles in choosing any solution for delivering patient-centered care.

EHR on a tablet
Telehealth is a useful way to provide and monitor care, but it's just as important to ensure interactions are recorded in patients' records.

Organizations can take one of two approaches when innovating in healthcare. One method is highly technology-driven, providing an end-to-end solution. The other is patient-centered with the focus being on the patient and clinician experience.

There is a fair use case for following the first strategy. You may think of it as “soup to nuts.” Organizations that are at the absolute beginning of their journey, with minimal existing infrastructure or investment into other solutions, are often attracted to a telehealth platform that has already predefined all the workflows needed. And that may be the right choice at the time.

But as these organizations gain momentum, they realize that their clinicians, facilities and service lines all have their own special needs and unique workflows. They want customizations or solutions to meet each situation, and yet they need a seamless user interface to support and maintain. So they must choose between using many solutions versus one universal platform that meets all use cases.

I’ve seen this scenario time and again. Either create point solutions for each individual scenario or orchestrate care leveraging all your resources seamlessly. I strongly believe in the second philosophy. Flexibility, adaptability, scalability and interoperability should always be the governing principles in choosing any solution for delivering patient-centered care.

For telehealth, the right approach means integrating with other solutions, platforms and technologies. But before we walk through all the ways a telehealth solution can do that, let’s take care of the obvious first integration: with an EHR system.

EHR integration

Your virtual care platform absolutely must integrate with your EHR system. But as hospital IT directors are aware, when it comes to EHR integration, the devil is in the details.

One EHR may accept a range of third-party integrations, each with its own user experience, while another may require those integrations exist only within the umbrella of the EHR’s own user experience. Some publish APIs for certain workflows, but others do not.

If your organization is in the process of selecting a virtual care platform, it’s important to understand these details. Ask whether the capabilities being requested by your clinical staff are limited by what the EHR allows, or what the platform provides.

But this isn’t just another EHR integration point. The EHR is undoubtedly one of the biggest technology investments your organization makes. Be careful not to allow the EHR integration question to overshadow other important integrations. Here are some examples of those:

  • Language interpretation services. Just as telehealth can be used to bring in various care specialists, sometimes specific language interpreters need to be brought in through remote video conferences. If these two services don’t integrate, an organization is faced with paying for two different systems just to provide one consultation for a single patient. Ensuring that language interpretation services can be integrated into existing systems avoids crowding in the patient room and duplicative investments.
  • Clinical decision support. These applications are important tools for providing evidence-based, proactive care delivery for all types of patients. Having the ability to validate CDS data with real-time video analysis elevates any virtual nursing assessment. It perpetuates early intervention, improves outcomes and provides the ability to scale resources across multiple facilities and healthcare settings.
  • Remote patient monitoring and device integrations. Several healthcare companies specialize in remote patient monitoring to help health systems manage patients during recovery as well as long-term chronic care for patients outside the hospital. Usually, these solutions pair internet-enabled medical devices with software applications that aggregate health information collected by the patient, analyze it and transmit it to clinicians. Integrating such a program into an enterprise-wide telehealth strategy will help avoid duplication of services and help make the best use of the investment.
  • Digital front doors. Health consumer portals handle appointment setting, notifications and reminders. Some EHRs provide portions of this capability but leave space for other technologies to specialize in streamlined digital front door experiences. These solutions can also enhance the virtual patient and clinician sessions for a variety of non-emergent use cases. Their goals are to ensure tight integration and avoid duplicate reminders and customer confusion about where they should go to access services.
  • Patient engagement platforms. These platforms provide a range of services to patients during a hospital stay, from showing the menu for ordering food to displaying a calendar or giving information about the care team.

Like many of the examples above, without proper integration, the hospital will need to invest in duplicative hardware, crowding the room with additional screens and complicating the experience for patients and families.

Benefits of telehealth integration

Choosing a virtual care platform that integrates with innovative and legacy investments is a tall order.

Be sure to look for an enterprise-grade virtual care platform that offers responsive, self-healing, purpose-built end-to-end telehealth for any use case combined with the ability to integrate with multiple important systems.

Jenna Walls is vice president of partnerships at Caregility

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