As telehealth increasingly becomes mainstream, health systems looking to implement telehealth are faced with a difficult decision when deciding what telemedicine vendor to choose, if any at all. Choosing the right telemedicine provider can be difficult, but with the proper guidance and knowledge, comparing telemedicine platforms doesn’t need to be a headache.
What do you want out of Telehealth?
Before you begin comparing telehealth vendors, you must first figure out what you want out of a telemedicine program. Your role at the health system may determine what you are looking for in choosing the right telemedicine provider. If you are a member of the C-Suite, you may be interested in which telemedicine vendor best grows your market, addresses competition, increases patient retention, and leverages scarce resources. The clinical stakeholders might regard patient transfer, ease of use, and consistent workflow and network as the most important areas. And finally, the technical side of your organization would undoubtedly be most interested in whichever telemedicine solutions provider has reliable, scalable technology that addresses security and HIPAA compliance.
Knowing your priorities and metrics to measure the success of telehealth at your organization are essential before you begin your research – how can you choose the right telemedicine provider if you don’t know what you’re looking for?
Build vs. Buy
Before deciding what telemedicine vendor to partner with, you may be asking yourself if you even need to partner with one at all. Many health systems, large and small, find themselves deciding whether to build their own telehealth network, or buy one from a telehealth provider.
When faced with the decision of building a telehealth solution for the enterprise IT leaders run into a wide array of challenges. Those challenges range from the very obvious, to the overlooked. Oftentimes IT groups confuse telehealth with video conferencing and fail to notice some important challenges that keep clinicians from accessing patients in an extensible way.
Over the last 15 years, InTouch Health VP of Technical Service, Greg Brallier, has helped launch over 130 telehealth networks and has learned some valuable lessons about what to consider along the way.
There are seven key considerations health systems often overlook during this process:
- Telehealth is global
While it seems obvious, IT groups are oftentimes focused on their immediate WAN/LAN and overlook the difficulties that come with supporting access to patients and providers outside of their infrastructure.
- If you didn’t document it, then it didn’t happen
In order for providers to treat patients in any model of healthcare, their visits and treatments must be documented in the patient’s record (not to mention billing and reimbursement). This now creates a new wrinkle in the telehealth continuum: documenting clinical visits when the Electronic Medical Records systems (EMRs) on the provider and patient sides are different.
- A picture’s worth a thousand dictations
Getting remote access to radiological imaging, like CTs and MRIs that reside on remote site PACS can be challenging, especially for highly acute service lines like stroke where “time is brain” and speed to access is paramount. Copying CTs to a cloud-based service is an option, but remember that upload times of 15 minutes or more should be expected and may not be acceptable to users.
- Use the right tool for the job
Access to patient-side peripherals will be required for many telehealth service lines. Depending on what service lines a health system’s telehealth network will be supporting, the remote provider may need access to stethoscopes, dermatoscopes, and otoscopes, just to name a few.
- You can’t manage what you can’t measure
Collecting the analytics for a telehealth program is one of the most import features of the system. Users will want to know what providers connected to which patients and at what times for many service lines so that they can manage their programs effectively. Aggregating this data across the myriad of locations needs careful consideration. A centralized data warehouse may be required to house this data for Key Performance Indicator reports (KPI) and metrics.
- Security is paramount
If a health system is planning on providing telehealth services to locations outside of its organization’s infrastructure, the health system is responsible for the security and regulatory obligations that come with building a homegrown telehealth network. Telehealth carts that were put together by a hospital’s IT staff and deployed outside of the organization will now be subject to the scrutiny of the remote facility’s security reviews and regulatory compliance. This is no small matter and requires some careful thinking and planning.
- Physician adoption and patient satisfaction
Perhaps the most important consideration to take into account when deciding on a telehealth platform is whether those who will use it the most – patients and providers – will get value from the system. If physicians find the platform unreliable, not user friendly, or too cumbersome, they will likely not use it.
Likewise, if satisfaction or enthusiasm is lacking around the telehealth platform on the patient side, enterprise wide adoption will suffer as providers are less inclined to use a tool that doesn’t help drive patient satisfaction. Regardless of other features and benefits the telehealth platform may offer, health systems will not get the ROI they expected to receive if physicians or patients are not satisfied and do not use the tool. Therefore, a seamless solution with a simple user experience for both patient and provider that is reliable and robust is required to ensure adoption, and ROI, are achieved.
The Iceberg: Expected and Unexpected Costs
As you can see, many health systems that opt to build it themselves run into a myriad of issues along the way, both planned and unplanned. Brallier has often used an iceberg analogy when describing the common pitfalls to building a system yourself, with the majority of the costs lying just below the surface.
Telehealth is more than just the provisioning of healthcare remotely by means of telecommunications technologies. It also includes the ability to treat patients in the same manner as if the provider were in the room or clinic. This includes not only the audio/video consult, but the ability to document the visit, adhere to clinical workflows, access remote imagery (CTs/MRIs), and utilize patient-side peripherals.
Building a telehealth network is an expensive proposition that can take more time than an organization can accept or afford. Using a telehealth managed service provider like InTouch Health may be a faster and less expensive way to quickly deploy, scale, and support a health system’s telehealth requirements.
Care across the Continuum
When comparing telemedicine vendors, it is important to understand where on the continuum they provide services. Are they strictly a consumer solution, do they operate in the acute space, or are they an enterprise solution that offers a complete end-to-end solution?
A true telehealth enterprise solution provides offerings across multiple service lines across the continuum of care. An enterprise-wide telehealth strategy typically aims to unify an entire health system onto a single telehealth network, allowing patients to receive virtual care anywhere, by any clinician, at any time, no matter the condition or severity.
When considering the general view of the Care Continuum, there are different care locations (e.g., Physician Clinic, Skilled Nursing Facility, etc.) in which a patient may require care. These care locations treat patients of corresponding acuity levels. Each facility is designed to be able to handle differing levels of patient care and when unexpected events occur that require higher levels of care, the patient will be transported to the appropriate facility that can manage the patient effectively.
As such, InTouch Health has designed our products to align with the Care Continuum and have solutions that are appropriate for both high-acuity and low-acuity environments. Our complete suite of solutions allow us to provide a host of configurations and experiences that can be leveraged across the entire continuum of care. At the core, our Telehealth Network allows easy access for physicians to connect to devices at various care locations, provides the ability for 24/7/365 monitoring and support, and facilitates the capabilities for business intelligence reporting and clinical workflow documentation and image access.
The InTouch Health Enterprise Solution includes telehealth devices, apps, workflow, business intelligence and analytics, and services, all supported on our robust network that can connect to any care location, whether community based, acute, or post-acute.
No other telehealth provider offers the amount or quality of the necessary components needed to make a true enterprise solution.
Our Medical Devices facilitate virtual care when and where you need it, but do not diminish the sacred interaction between the physician and patient. Each medical device is purpose-built and designed solely for healthcare use. InTouch Health has designed products for use in both high acuity and low acuity environments, to meet the demands of healthcare.
InTouch Health Clinical Apps (Workflow)
All telehealth programs should begin with the clinical workflow in mind. Clinical Apps allows our customer to create standards of workflow to meet the goals of their quality and process management program needs.
Clinical Apps overcomes barriers to documenting remote consultations across a Telehealth Network. This next generation solution delivers customizable patient-centric applications that can be integrated with hospital EHR systems, allowing patient records to be available when and where they are needed. These applications can be easily modified or extended to accommodate the requirements of individual healthcare organizations using the platform’s eForms and workflow tools. Clinical Apps captures core patient data and performance metrics of a consultation, including: patient demographics, history, vitals, labs, t-PA, physician recommendation, and consultation notes.
InTouch Health PACS Viewer
PACS Viewer is an FDA-cleared and HIPAA-compliant diagnostic-quality viewing solution that can be used with any telehealth workflow. Saving time while maximizing security and ease of use, PACS Viewer allows remote clinicians to connect with any networked PACS to quickly access imaging studies including CT, CTA, MRI, MRA, PET, ultrasound and more.
InTouch has invested over $50M into a cloud infrastructure, so you don’t have to. Our established, reliable and scalable global telehealth platform includes seven U.S.-hosted data centers covering the Americas, and three additional locations in Asia and Europe.
InTouch Health has managed over 800,000 physician-to-patient telehealth consultations with 14,000 providers in over 130 health systems, including many of the most recognized systems in the nation. We have the experience it takes to make each new partnership a success. InTouch supports more than 30 different telehealth service lines from acute to post-acute care, including globally successful telehealth services for stroke and ICU.
The InTouch Telehealth Network’s cloud-based infrastructure and technologies enable the highest levels of connectivity and network performance. Our scalable cloud solutions provide seamless firewall traversal as well as advanced levels of security and encryption. Our connection optimization technology manages highly variable network conditions. Through our proactive monitoring and alerts, and routine maintenance and updates, we maintain a constant state of readiness.
Support & Reliability
Reliable, high-quality connections are what our customers appreciate most. The InTouch Telehealth Network includes 24/7 proactive monitoring and troubleshooting, and a suite of end-to-end diagnostics functions to ensure that the technology supports your clinical care goals. We provide a single point of contact for troubleshooting and problem resolution through our Technical Assistance Center. If your InTouch Solution includes the use of Medical Devices, InTouch Health provides preventive fleet maintenance and repair/replacement programs to minimize disruptions in services.
PHYSICIAN CAPACITY MANAGEMENT
With the growing adoption of telehealth as an alternative to providing onsite specialty consults, Physician Service Organizations currently provide remote care across the United States. These services allow health systems to combat gaps in physician coverage, whether rural, community-based or urban. InTouch Health now completes the total telehealth solution with its Physician Services offering. Powered by the InTouch Telehealth Network, InTouch Physicians Services allows health systems to increase access to high-quality care while incorporating standardized clinical and telehealth best practices.
Our reporting tools deliver comprehensive information on current and past clinical encounters to help organizations understand their utilization trends. Our comprehensive support system reports technical performance metrics on individual systems as well as networks as a whole.
As you can see, there are a lot of considerations to take into account when choosing a telemedicine partner. Telehealth is emerging as one of the most effective solutions to transform the healthcare space that delivers significant specialist efficiency gains, improved patient access, faster response times, and more episodes of care across the continuum of care, resulting in higher revenue, better clinical outcomes, lower risks, and lower costs. InTouch Health’s global cloud-based Telehealth Network supports over 200,000 annual physician encounters with connections to more than 1,500 patient access locations, growing at a rate of one hospital per day. InTouch Health is evolving its business model from “acute care clinical services” focus to an enterprise “care-anywhere” model by offering a complete portfolio of software, hardware, connectivity, and services that meets all telehealth needs.
Whether you decide to build your own telehealth network, or select services from a telehealth solutions provider, this reference can act as your guide to navigate all the questions to ask when choosing a telemedicine vendor.