Telehealth Adoption: Helping Care Teams Better Serve Their Patients and Communities

 

By Mark Crandall, Chief Information Officer, Consulate Health Care

 

At the nexus of Healthcare and Technology emerges solutions aimed to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction, while making the jobs of clinicians safer and more effective. The primary driver of these solutions is to address industry-specific challenges faced by these populations. One such solution at the convergence of Health and Tech that is beginning to show signs of maturity is Telehealth—the remote delivery of healthcare services over an audio and visual telecommunications platform.

We are experiencing an exciting time for Health Tech, as a whole. We are seeing climbing rates of adoption of digital health tools among consumers, including wearables and Telehealth applications. New players are emerging in the healthcare industry leveraging technology to bring new delivery models to consumers. State and Federal legislators are discussing ways to reduce barriers to Health Tech innovation, while encouraging industry leaders and new players to look toward solutions like Telehealth, as the new norm.

From a technological viability standpoint, we are more capable of delivering Telehealth effectively in multiple healthcare settings than ever before. I serve as Chief Information Officer for Consulate Health Care, a national leading provider of senior healthcare services. Our talented team of Health Tech pros and vendor partners are currently implementing Telehealth in a controlled test group of our Skilled Nursing Facilities.

Telehealth platform integration with legacy e-health record systems and single application sign-on capabilities helps to streamline utilization by cutting down on the amount of time it takes for clinicians to become familiar with new technology platforms.

We are seeing the industry’s most advanced wireless internet networks provide seamless, two-way interaction through high-resolution cameras and crisp, clear VOIP communication. We are integrating our Telehealth platforms with electronic patient recordkeeping systems to send and receive information quickly and securely, while allowing Telehealth clinicians to monitor the status of patients in real-time. In other words, the technology needed for effective Telehealth platforms already exists.

While technological capability is an essential element to industry-wide adoption, it is not the only element. The healthcare industry at large has a significant amount of work to do as it relates to policy making, security, education and talent development, as well as overall trust and adoption among patients and clinicians.

These barriers are similar to circumstances occurring in other emerging technology trends, such as Future Mobility or Blockchain—where the technology fueling these trends already meets or exceeds the needs of the consumer, but overall adoption remains moderate at best due to a lack of governance and policy, infrastructure, security and overall consumer trust.

Healthcare providers looking to offer Telehealth solutions to their patients must treat training and development with the same regard as tech implementation. At Consulate, we view this as a culture-changing initiative to meet and exceed the needs of our patients, while improving the employee experience and work-life balance of our clinicians and physician partners.

Let’s face it—in today’s healthcare environment, clinicians are busy—making tech implementation and culture-change challenging, at any scale. This reality constitutes the “make it easy” approach essential to successful team implementation. Telehealth platform integration with legacy e-health record systems and single application sign-on capabilities helps to streamline utilization by cutting down on the amount of time it takes for clinicians to become familiar with new technology platforms.

Another barrier to address is onsite and remote physician team integration. While Telehealth physicians engage patients remotely through an audio/visual platform, at its core, the technology introduces new groups of physicians to existing clinician teams. Onsite care teams and Telehealth clinicians have to learn how to effectively trust each other and work together to leverage the platform’s full capacity.

While it is up to the individual clinician to be adaptive and open-minded when it comes to learning, and actually using new patient care technology platforms, it is the responsibility of provider organizations to ensure their care teams have the knowledge, resources, infrastructure and accountability measures in place to ensure platforms like Telehealth are utilized to their fullest capacity.

Part of training and education is helping onsite and remote clinicians, as well as ancillary staff understand the evolving administration and payer management ecosystem. On April 5, 2019, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a rule that updated the Medicare Advantage program by allowing plans to include “additional telehealth benefits” as part of Medicare basic benefits starting in 2020. The plan requires that providers comply with applicable licensing requirements and laws for the state in which the patient is located and receiving care. This is important for care teams to know and comfortably communicate to support staff and consumers, as Telehealth become a more widely-adopted resource.

As we have seen in the past, integration and culture-change initiatives will converge to promote Telehealth as a trusted resource among care teams, over time. This trust will extend to the patient community, as care teams demonstrate familiarity and ease of access. Additionally, increased accessibility to physician-led care helps to ensure quality outcomes and patient satisfaction—helping consumers become more comfortable and accepting, or trusting, of Telehealth. Consulate’s Skilled Nursing Facilities with Telehealth offerings are already showing decreases in un-necessary patient readmissions to hospitals and emergency rooms visits due to extended access to physician-led care.

As trust builds between onsite practitioners and remote physicians, care teams will have more resources to treat patients, helping to cover patient care needs over long periods of time and shift changes—aiding to offset physician burnout through a balanced, team-oriented approach to quality care.

As the technology continues to develop and converge with consumer electronic mobile devices, future applications of Telehealth show signs of increased scalability and utilization among patients and clinicians—bringing its value to more hospitals, long term care and skilled nursing facilities, as well as assisted living and home care environments. Tech integration working in congruence with team implementation will bring Telehealth into more health care delivery models faster, helping more patients and communities benefit from its power.