How to Build or Scale an Integrated Telehealth Platform
Telehealth has been promoted as a safer way to deliver acute, chronic, primary, and specialty care. Yet, for most providers, telehealth resembles a patchwork of point products.
As telehealth evolves, healthcare providers large and small will require technology platforms to be wholly integrated for an uninterrupted flow of patient data, whether it’s an in-person visit, a telehealth consult, or some other type of touchpoint.
Building an integrated telehealth strategy starts with asking your customers about their objectives and their patients’ needs.
Best practices for building a telehealth strategy
The right infrastructure, along with the connectivity to deliver a superior physician and patient experience, is key. A sustainable telehealth strategy requires a holistic plan that addresses how to implement, operationalize, optimize, manage, and maintain this infrastructure. Here are some considerations:
- Existing IT infrastructure – Identify the technology infrastructure that your client currently has, from traditional on-premises or cloud assets to their communications and collaboration systems.
- Access – Is there sufficient bandwidth to transmit audio and video and access application data? Assess the network to ensure that it can support your client’s goals.
- Medical devices/remote patient monitoring (RPM) – Inventory the medical sensors and devices used for remote patient monitoring. These are essential for effective disease management, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation.
- Clinical and business applications – Integrating picture archiving and communication system (PACS), electronic health records (EHRs), labs, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), and other systems aids the overall treatment of the patient and provides a seamless patient experience. Identify the business and clinical applications that will need to be integrated into a telehealth system.
- Asset tracking – A lifecycle asset tracking solution helps control costs by ensuring that business and clinical devices are quickly located, in good working order, and returned to the healthcare practice when no longer needed by the patient.
- Load balancing – Load-balancing solutions can help improve application performance and delivery by prioritizing some users, devices, applications, and more over others.
- Comfortability – To increase telehealth adoption, the technology and/or devices used to set up and conduct telehealth consults and remote patient monitoring must be easy for physicians and patients to use.
- Training – Employees, clinical staff, and physicians will require training to ensure telehealth adoption. Consider the training requirements needed for each role and how training will be delivered.
Security considerations for telehealth
To protect patient privacy and business data, an integrated telehealth platform must be built on a secure foundation. A solid plan should include:
- Virtual private networks (VPNs) – Ensures a secure, encrypted connection between the corporate network and devices used by remote employees and physicians.
- Authentication and access control – Employ multi-factor authentication to prove user identity, especially those outside the corporate firewall, and provide strong access control with the least privilege to limit user access to resources.
- Endpoint protection and management – Discover all endpoints—from desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones to clinical devices—so that policies can be defined and up-to-date patches, updates, and more applied. This can also be an opportunity to implement bring-your-own-device policies to reduce the burden of device purchases.
Value of an integrated telehealth/RPM platform
With a solid strategic foundation, an integrated telehealth platform can deliver:
- Better health outcomes – Physicians can make more informed clinical decisions, intervene before minor problems turn into major ones, and improve health outcomes for chronically ill patients by supporting, educating, and monitoring them.
- Fewer hospitalizations/readmissions – Physicians can prevent hospitalizations and reduce hospital readmissions with remote patient monitoring and continuous feedback.
- Improved patient engagement – According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), more than 66 percent of patients say they feel a lot or somewhat more engaged during discussions with their healthcare providers when data they’ve generated is part of the experience.
- Increased physician engagement – In the same HIMSS survey, patients reported that their healthcare providers were a lot or somewhat more engaged during discussions when they provided data they’ve generated on their own.
- Greater clinical efficiency – Integrated telehealth platforms can mirror existing workflows and drive greater clinical efficiency while increasing physician satisfaction and adoption.
- Reduced risk – A telehealth platform can document signs and symptoms that pinpoint latent health issues or interventions that can help reduce liability.
Final thoughts on management and maintenance
A solid and secure telehealth program has ongoing maintenance and support costs that should also be considered. To address this, many healthcare providers have turned to leased hardware and/or consumption-based services, where a single monthly fee not only enables access to the technology, it provides routine monitoring, maintenance, and upgrade services. These types of solutions enable healthcare IT teams to better focus on clinical innovation in support of their healthcare mission.
Finally, there are multiple grant programs available to help fund telehealth programs. Check out the federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for a complete list of active grant programs.
Mike Riley is Vice President, Healthcare & GovEd at Logicalis US, responsible for helping healthcare, government, and educational organizations align their business and technology needs.