Telemedicine: Tips For Success
According to a 2014 IHS report, the number of patients using telemedicine services will grow to 7 million in 2018, up from 350,000 in 2013. Health plans have long recognized that telemedicine can help address the needs of their members, particularly in rural areas where access to care is more challenging. State programs have also noted the benefits and now routinely include telemedicine requirements in their Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) Requests for Proposals, in parity laws, and reimbursement requirements for veterans and Medicare beneficiaries.
As telemedicine continues to expand (and change with advances in technology), health plans must ensure they have well-rounded strategies that incorporate best practices and that offer user-friendly, updated technology, such as patient-centered wellness tools, mobile applications, and social media.
The following are some key components essential to a telemedicine program:
HIPAA compliance: Every telemedicine program must allow for secure information to be sent, received, and stored. Steps must also be taken to assure that the room where the patient is located is private.
Location: The equipment and the telemedicine facilitator must be in close proximity to the patient.
User-friendly Features: All parties must be able to easily access equipment, the system, and the electronic medical record. This includes having an established protocol and identified contact for technical support in the event of a log in/bandwidth issue.
Buy in: When introducing a new means for delivering care, all parties must fully understand the benefits of the system. To secure buy in from all parties involved, health plans should provide opportunities and forums for employees, providers, and patients/families to be informed of the delivery model and to provide feedback.
Adequate prep time: Each practitioner should have ample time to review a patient’s record prior to a session.
Successful financial model: Overall financial impact of the program must be evaluated to include cost estimates for all staff that train and support the program. Return on investment should be established in order to show a repeatable/financially sustainable model.
Outcomes Measurement: There must be a mechanism in place to routinely and consistently track/measure outcomes, including pre- and post-program statistics to identify trends and adjust telemedicine practices, when needed.
Properly trained staff: All providers/facilitators and staff must be fully trained to use the system. A well-developed telemedicine training program should include initial and ongoing training that outlines standard protocols for delivering care and processes for appropriately using the devices.
Adequate utilization: Effectively promoting telemedicine so that health care providers, members, and system stakeholders understand its value and benefits is also important. Health plans must develop an effective outreach and communication strategy that drives use of the program.
For organizations seeking to provide telemedicine, the Telehealth Resource Centers (http://www.telehealthresourcecenter.org/) is a great resource. It is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration Office of the Advancement of Telehealth with two national centers and 12 regional centers available to assist.
We want to know your thoughts on telemedicine. In your experience, what are the most important considerations? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?