In the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) 2017 Telemedicine Executive Leadership Survey results released earlier this year, telemedicine executives said they “are overwhelmingly optimistic about the future of the telehealth industry and are planning near-term investments to keep pace with rapid transformation and growth of the industry.”
Various vendor studies also support the idea that 2017 is (finally!) the year of Telemedicine.
So are we actually at a tipping point?
Well, telemedicine is not exactly a shiny new toy. It is already deeply embedded in hundreds if not thousands of hospitals nationwide. Specialists on Call (SOC) has conducted over 380,000 teleConsults since 2004. We've partnered with hundreds of hospitals. We have developed internal expertise on every aspect of making a telemedicine program successful.
What are some of the lessons we've learned?
- Speaking of shiny new toys: It isn't about the cart. Don't get us wrong, we love carts. We can talk about carts all day. But, the cart (or the PC, or the tablet, or the smart phone) is just an enabler of the consult. It can't take the place of the clinician in diagnosing and treating. The focus must be on the patient and on clinical outcomes.
- Tracking and reporting analytics is critical. Any telemedicine program, no matter how small or how large, needs to prove it is effective. Data must be analyzed with a high degree of sophistication to provide insights on quality measures, progress and to effectively match demand and supply. Stakeholders need to see how the program is performing by the same measures they use for other clinical programs.
- Scale. Telemedicine programs need to be built with the flexibility to scale in mind. Many hospitals expand their services after piloting projects, and the trick is to be able to do that rapidly and seamlessly. A telemedicine infrastructure needs to be purpose-built to scale. The vendor you choose must have the infrastructure to deliver your services. It should help you:
- coordinate physician scheduling and provisioning for smooth operations
- allow for electronic (online) intake – phone calls are inefficient
- aid in clinical documentation and integrate with your EMR – the heart of your analytics
- provide rules-based physician dispatch to prevent over- or under-capacity
- include physician communication and engagement tools that are easy and straight-forward to win and keep adoption
The platform you choose should be a right-sized telemedicine solution with the ability to scale up the program at any time with minimal disruption.
- There is no such thing as a small telemedicine implementation. No matter if you are starting with just one department, or establishing an enterprise-wide program, skilled project implementation and workflow optimization is key. Every hospital is different, but after hundreds of implementations, we know it is critical to have a proven methodology for project planning, workflow analysis, predictive supply/demand modeling, training, mock consults, and creation of reports and analytic measures, etc. Using certified project management personnel will help improve the implementation speed and success rate exponentially.
- Cheat a little by hiring mission-driven, smart people. Not sure if your vendor has what it takes? Ask these questions:
- Does the vendor have employees who are Lean Six Sigma certified to help you implement telemedicine within your existing workflow most efficiently?
- Are there any PMP&Copy; certified project managers to help your implementation run smoothly?
- How many physicians do they have to help supplement your own? Are they board-certified? How many years of experience?
- Have they earned Joint Commission accreditation?
- And, most importantly, how are they prepared to help you succeed?
Think of the connection between the physician and the patient as the tip of the iceberg – many vendors can help facilitate that. But, lurking underneath the water are dozens of complicated issues that need to be addressed, such as credentialing, licensing & privileging, outcomes tracking and reporting, analytics & benchmarking, demand and supply predictive modeling, workflow design and optimization, 24/7 IT support, and so much more. If your organization has reached its tipping point on telemedicine, use the considerations above to assess vendors on their capability to help you build a sustainable program that improves patient outcomes, engages clinicians, and scales to fit your needs.
Please visit Specialists on Call (SOC) for more information on our enterprise telemedicine platform.