A great telehealth solution is about more than just the hardware and software that your application uses. While connectivity, data plans, software, and equipment are integral parts of any online deployment, getting telehealth right requires an understanding of your needs, current policies, and strategic goals. An accurate assessment of the financial and human resources at your disposal and the physical locations that you will need to reach is also critical to launching a successful telehealth solution.
A survey of executive leaders in the healthcare services space conducted by the American Telemedicine Association found that most respondents (88%) had plans to invest in telehealth solutions. Even more (98%) felt that telehealth services gave organizations a competitive advantage over those that do not offer it. Research from Accenture reaffirms the current trend, and burgeoning demand for telehealth solutions will lead to a quadrupling of the number of players in the telehealth space. A few reasons for this trend are as follows:
- Reimbursement for payers. Telehealth coverage by Medicare, Medicaid, and private plans has increased the number of providers offering remote health services and the number of individuals using them.
- Ease of use. Mobile/smartphone penetration, combined with mobile-friendly apps, makes it easier to provide telehealth services to more people.
- Cost and productivity. Innovative telehealth applications can make healthcare delivery available at a lower price and faster than physical visits to the doctor.
- Plan design. Many telehealth solutions come with end-to-end patient care tools, such as monitoring, fitness tools, reminders, and automated data collection and analysis.
- Culture and norms. It has taken time to gain widespread acceptance, but we are finally at an inflection point where telemedicine platforms are not only available and valid but accepted and used.
In light of these developments, healthcare facilities are best served by initiating telehealth services or expanding their existing virtual care capabilities to not only adapt to current demand but also to prepare themselves for future telehealth opportunities. Moreover, decision-makers in healthcare services will do well to incorporate telehealth services into their business continuity plans.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses, policymakers, and private individuals across the globe have had to contend with social distancing, indefinite work from home, and an increased reliance on virtual tools. Restrictions on movement as a virus containment measures have led to telehealth becoming an indispensable way for individuals to get access to healthcare while remaining safely in their homes. As a result, many of the barriers to the widespread adoption of telehealth have been speedily addressed or overcome as evidence of its utility became apparent and essential to the general populace.
As the use of telehealth, virtual work, and online tools continue to gain broader acceptance, how can CIOs, CTOs, and other IT decision-makers design and implement robust and effective telehealth solutions?
The technical infrastructure needed to deliver telehealth services varies based on the type, location, and specific features or tools you want to provide. At a basic level, all telehealth programs require the following:
- Internet connectivity. You need your teams—as well as your customers—to have access to the Internet, as well as enough bandwidth to transmit audio and video data.
- Hardware, software, and peripherals. In addition to the computers, tablets, mobile devices, and applications that connect doctors and clinicians with patients, virtual diagnostic equipment is also essential, such as stethoscopes, imaging tools, and temperature recording equipment, depending on the kind of telehealth services you want to provide.
- Support staff. A helpdesk or support team is needed to educate your users on how telehealth works, troubleshooting issues, and using the system.
- Team training. You need to train your in-house and vendor teams as well on how to use your telehealth technology, and doing so may require investments in new resources or tools.
Getting the above right can help CIOs enable the delivery of medical services to more people while simultaneously keeping costs in check. And it can help physicians treat remote or rural patients, not to mention the economically disadvantaged or those in densely populated urban areas who may have inadequate access to cost-effective public transit.
Despite all this, several mission-critical factors must be kept in mind before a telehealth plan is rolled out. Consider the following:
- Connectivity. What kind of connectivity do you require? According to the Congressional Research Service, upload and download speeds of 1 Mbps and 4 Mbps respectively are the minimum acceptable level for government-regulated data transmission. However, when it comes to broadband services, the minimum acceptable speeds are 3 Mbps for uploads and 25 Mbps for downloads. Still, roughly 40% of rural Americans lack access to this kind of connectivity.
- User Experience. The willingness—or lack thereof—of your patients, customers, or service providers to use your telehealth platform will determine the success or failure of the venture. From UI design, ease of access, and seamless onboarding to cross-device compatibility and consistency, you want to design a patient flow that closely mimics an in-person visit but without the long wait times and associated costs.
- Staff Workflows. Your solution should be easy for doctors, nurses, and other healthcare staff to use. It should provide them with what they need when they need it, such as patient histories and treatment data, some of which may be governed by HIPAA rules.
- Network Security and Encryption. This brings us to IT security. Who needs what kind of data, when, and on what type of device? Can you guarantee patient privacy and the safety of patient data? How, where, and in what format will the data you transmit on your platform between doctors and patients be stored?
- Flexibility. The telehealth sector is always changing and evolving. Will your solution work with any vendor, or will it be tied to specific (proprietary) hardware devices or software? Can you add modules as the industrial landscape changes, and can you maintain the system yourself?