Telehealth’s Emergence as a Must-Have Option
It’s no secret the healthcare industry has been forever changed. Telehealth services are now must-have offerings for most healthcare organizations in order to stay in operation after the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world.
Some healthcare organizations are still implementing their telehealth programs while others are in the process of refining their virtual health programs and strategies to ensure the continued adoption and sustainment of their telehealth services. No matter where you are in the process, having a telehealth program that works for your organization has become critical in today’s times. Here are some ways healthcare providers can approach adoption and scale their telehealth capabilities and business model to expand on access to care and profitability for long-term success.
Solving for Telehealth Program Barriers
Between COVID exposure risks, costs, fear of care quality, wait times and dissatisfaction of the amount of face time with their physicians, a lot of today’s patients avoid or delay seeking medical treatment. Telehealth services provide a solution to all of those barriers. Regarding COVID-19, telehealth helps reduce risk for vulnerable patient populations (or any population for that matter) by allowing them to receive care from home without risking exposure to the virus. In addition to offering significant exposure reduction, telehealth services often involve a lower copay and increases access to care in remote and rural areas, give patients greater access to specialty care, addresses clinician shortages and helps scale provider workloads.
Telehealth can also relieve the time requirement burden that historically has come standard with in-person appointments. Including travel and wait times, the average in-person appointment can take roughly two hours, with only 20 minutes of that time spent with a provider. Compare that to the average telehealth visit, which involves as little as five minutes of wait time and 10 minutes with a provider. Furthermore, with today’s advancement in telehealth capabilities, these programs can be integrated into nearly any field of medicine, often with results that are equal or even superior to in-person care. For a lot of patients – parents with small children or patients with multiple jobs, for example – this new availability of access to care can make a huge difference in their day-to-day lives and can improve not just their health but the health of their family members, as well.
Thanks to the advances in virtualization and cloud infrastructure, the technology required for virtual or digital health services has become simpler and more accessible to consumers, leading to a shift in focus toward adoption and sustainment.
Strategies Behind Successful Telehealth Programs
Whether your organization is still adopting its telehealth program or looking to optimize its processes, having a clearly defined strategy is key. This requires taking workflows into consideration and including every employee who would utilize the program throughout every step of the patient journey – from scheduling to follow up and continuous care as needed. Successful implementation and optimization may involve updating provider workflows, standardizing systems, training and educating staff, addressing changes in staffing needs, overhauling patient communications and establishing a protocol for balancing telehealth with in-person visits when necessary. Some organizations find it most cost effective to bring in an experienced outside partner with the expertise to implement these programs correctly and efficiently. When successful, the transition to telehealth will minimize the disruption of continuation of care and maximize the time and effort put into the transition.
When organizations are looking to define their telehealth strategy, there are specific things to take into consideration:
- Change management processes – Successful telehealth adoption starts with effectively communicating the value and benefits of system changes. Perceived challenges are critical to address during the onset of any project, but especially one as influential as telehealth.
- Scalability – When implementing or expanding your telehealth services, ensure your existing resources are able to scale as your virtual care demands fluctuate. Some organizations choose to supplement their pool of resources with outside consultants or IT staff that come with process expertise and depart after implementation is complete, avoiding a burden of investment into resources your organization may not need or can’t afford long term.
- System integrations – work with your IT staff to ensure your telehealth program and your existing internal systems are integrated seamlessly for optimized performance and end user satisfaction.
- Security – Standards and privacy requirements need to be considered, along with the necessary certifications and user access needs. A thorough review of security will need to be done before, during and after any organizational change.
Communication is an important initiative to conduct throughout this process. Organizations will need to prepare their staff and indeed the organization as a whole. Effective communication to providers, administrators and patients paves the way for a smooth change process. Research shows that two thirds of parents with young children are interested in telehealth services and 20% of consumers would be willing to change providers to one offering telehealth services. Notifying your patients about your telehealth services, how they can enroll and the tools available to them can make a big difference in a number of areas for your organization.
Finally, ensure you provide ample and sufficient training for educating your staff. This can make or break a technology implementation because it greatly affects the flow of care and the speed of adoption. In fact, 57% of providers have a more favorable view of telehealth now than before the start of the pandemic. The speed of adoption, culture of change and increased patient satisfaction can have a positive effect on a healthcare organization’s bottom line.
Measure the Changes, Realize the Benefits
Evaluation and optimization are the secrets to telehealth success. Organizations need to build in processes for monitoring and evaluation of all services provided to determine which areas need help to improve and which areas are thriving. Deciding on key performance indicators (KPIs) are a good way to evaluate these efforts. Some examples of KPIs include improved patient retention, reduced readmission rates and increased efficiencies of clinical staff. Reducing revenue leakage due to care transfers or provider changes are also benefits of a telehealth system that is working in favor of providers, patients and organizational leadership.
Leaders who use KPIs to measure success gain the benefits of the actionable insights they provide. They can make informed, data-driven decisions on how to make their organizations both more helpful and profitable.
Telehealth programs bring a wealth of benefits to healthcare organizations today. Due to the pandemic, most of the barriers associated with implementation telehealth programs have been eliminated or have been able to be overcome by shear necessity. By strategizing the right program for your organization, implementing it correctly and then doing the proper optimization via monitoring and evaluation, any organization can reap the benefits of telehealth including increased patient satisfaction, more efficient time management for providers and an improved bottom line for the organization as a whole.
To learn more about why telehealth is a must-have option for organizations today, please read our white paper or contact us to see how Iron Bow’s expertise can help your organization thrive in the post-pandemic days of digital health.
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