Why decisions on telehealth strategies are at a critical juncture

Deciding the best path forward will dictate choices on which technologies health systems will need, and integration with EMR platforms will be key.

Telehealth is a virtual healthcare delivery system, and it has become a permanent fixture in healthcare delivery, accelerated by the pandemic. Now, healthcare leaders are looking to expand and improve their telehealth product.

Virtual care is now mainstream. It's transforming how healthcare is delivered and part of the strategy. Challenges remain, but numerous opportunities exist. The solution you choose to buy or build will have a long-lasting impact. Here are four things to consider for healthcare decision-makers.

Standalone or EMR-centric system
Telehealth works best when it replicates an in-clinic visit, and that can only happen when all of the patient's clinical data is in one place and linked to the EHR. This completes the picture of the patient and gives insight into a possible health trend by examining historical information. The historical data improves physicians' ability to assess the patient's condition over time, which is crucial for preventative and long-term care.

The marketplace has a few standalone products that integrate well with the EMR enabling the records solution to act as the central platform. Critical findings for standalone solutions that work well in the industry must include the following:

  • Consistent application design on all devices (smartphone, tablet, desktop, web TV).
  • System usability in a low-bandwidth environment.
  • Multiple integration points with the EMR to have EMR-like functions in the system.

The critical component for the success of standalone solutions is to integrate well and avoid any duplicative effort, such as entering the same information in multiple systems.

The EMR-centric solution only has to focus on integrating with the video solution, which is most likely the same vendor as the company's existing video conferencing system. This tight integration enables a swift experience for physicians by conducting the remote visit while working in the patient record system. Examples of the integrated features include:

  • Joining a video session embedded in the patient portal app.
  • Clinician notification of the patient's arrival in the virtual waiting room.
  • Easily invite a clinical specialist to the virtual consult.

All eyes on security
Healthcare companies must be vigilant about how patient data is utilized and shared during telehealth sessions. The telehealth service Doxy.me, for example, has recently been exposed to a privacy issue that enables third-party businesses to see the names of some patients' providers.

The provider's name was revealed when patients utilized the platform's "virtual waiting room" service, which linked them with medical experts. Because the provider picks the name of their waiting area, which is frequently their own, or the name of their medical practice, this reveals their identity.

There was no information about the patient's health leaked in this incident. These events will continue to happen, providing an opportunity for healthcare providers to re-evaluate their vendors and appetite for risk.

More than just telehealth
The growth of telehealth has revolutionized the healthcare industry, enabling hospitals across the country to take advantage of its benefits while also adopting it as their Hospital at Home technology. Hospital at Home is not a new concept, and it is the combination of in-home and virtual visits with remote monitoring replicating the inpatient hospital-level care in patients' homes.

Many factors have aided in the shift in attitude and adoption of Hospital at Home, including:

  • Technological advances of the telehealth solution.
  • Changes in how patients consume healthcare.
  • COVID-19 pandemic and CMS waivers.

Historically, telehealth solutions have been regarded as a standalone product rather than a key strategic solution. It must be integrated into the healthcare operations for it to work effectively. If you don't incorporate it, your business will suffer.

David Chou is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer of Harris Health System and founder of davidchou.health.

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