Telemedicine has been around for years, but the idea of having doctors and patients face off on video links is gaining increased interest by the industry. That’s true for many reasons, including the following:
- About 20 percent of the population lives in rural areas, while only nine percent of physicians are in those locations. Many people are underserved by medical expertise.
- Some specialist providers may be able to practice over a wider geographic span.
- Seeing more patients in a given location means more physical resources like waiting areas and staff.
- Removing the need to always come into an office can offer patients increased convenience and show greater respect for their time.
Telemedicine promises the ability to make doctors and facilities more productive while increasing availability and convenience for patients. However, for all the positives, the practice of remote medicine is not something to take on lightly. There are implications for patient well-being, liability, logistics, and IT infrastructure and operations. Here are some tips from Sue Schade, a consultant in healthcare IT.
Understand your strategy
It might seem obvious, but telemedicine can have different implications, depending on your intent. You might want to extend the reach of your services, provide greater convenience for patients, or both. The specifics of how you use the technology and structure the business and clinical processes you need depend on that choice.
Because telemedicine is a set of technologies used to enable clinical practices, its implementation cannot be a managerial fiat or something left to the IT department alone. The doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, therapists, and others who might use the systems should have input into how they are designed and run. Learn their concerns, address those concerns, and also show the professionals the value they can achieve. Without practitioner support, success will be difficult to achieve.
Consider the operational and legal issues
Because you’re building a set of processes that become part of the clinical practice, you have to consider such practical issues as how you bill for it, whether payers will recognize the use of telemedicine, privacy and security concerns in transmitting sensitive information over electronic means, and archiving the information as part of a healthcare record. There are also issues of oversight, prioritization of efforts, and governance. For example, what are the Medicare rules over telehealth and payment? It is far easier to address these topics in the early planning stages than it is to approach a retrofit in a nearly completed design.
Carefully consider the technical aspects
Telemedicine will need to integrate with existing systems, including electronic healthcare records, billing and payment, pharmacy, and more. Understand the requirements, current capabilities, and future roadmaps of these systems. Recognize that you may need significant investment to get the system up and running. Also, start with a pilot program, refine it, and then roll out to broader use so the mistakes you need to correct are only on a small scale.
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