While it is clear that there will be sustained growth in the telemedicine industry over the coming years, there are also many programs that seem to be less successful than others. When determining whether you would like to start working with a telemedicine platform, it’s always a good idea to look for markers of a successful program. Here are some of the top characteristics.
Many institutions design a program based on what specialties are easy for them to provide or which physicians have the time to devote to it. But this tactic often ignores the fact that the most successful programs are designed to address what is needed in the community, which usually includes those specialties that are the hardest for patients to access in general. For instance, mental health services are one of the most in-demand specialties, and consultations can adapt well to a digital platform. This is the type of program that would be very likely to be successful.
Many patients can suffer from anxiety when they first consider approaching aspects of their medical care through telemedicine. We are asking them to move from a traditional patient care model that has looked the same throughout their life into another model that usually relies on unfamiliar technology. This often triggers feelings of anxiety and concerns ranging anywhere from medical privacy to simply being comfortable in front of a camera. This anxiety can be alleviated when they are clearly informed of all aspects of their upcoming visit prior to it taking place. If they understand their quality of treatment will be the same or better, while also feeling that they are in a safe and trusted environment, they are much more likely to have a positive experience. This will ultimately lead to widespread patient acceptance and satisfaction with this treatment modality.
As with many other programs, the success or failure will often depend on how dedicated the staff are to making it work. The telehealth programs that are most distinguished are often led by a champion that ensures the proper resources are allocated and that everyone receives adequate training. There is usually a full-time coordinator and the rest of the team must be supportive. The leader must also ensure that all processes and procedures are in place and followed to ensure successful outcomes.
When purchasing equipment for a telemedicine program, there are many concerns, including price, support, on-going costs and maintaining a robust security protocol. Additionally, there are a variety of platforms to choose from, some are proprietary and others can be created using off-the-shelf products. There is no magic answer in terms of what equipment is right or wrong to use. It simply depends on what is the best fit for your program, your network and your budget-while still meeting the needs of your patient population. A comprehensive needs assessment that includes physician and user feedback should be conducted prior to the implementation of any technology.
The most successful programs are run by organizations that have taken the time to truly reflect on what needs to be accomplished and how those objectives fit into the larger vision for the entire organization. Once this has been thought through, additional strategic and tactical steps must be identified in order to truly set up a plan for success. Both staff and patients will feel more comfortable if they understand the road map, including where they are currently and where they intend to go.
This plan should incorporate both long and short-term financial goals. It should account for patients that are self-paying as well as those in which reimbursements will be sought either through Medicaid, Medicare or a private payer. These reimbursements will also need to conform to state telehealth laws. Just as with the policies and procedures, the financial plan should be written and detailed. It may be easy to assume that any program will automatically be profitable since they can be very cost effective, but there are costs that will be experienced that are not a part of the standard patient care model, such as the maintenance and upgrade of video equipment as necessary. Thorough research should be conducted when developing a financial plan.
If a telehealth program is rarely used, often people will forget it is an option, or even forget how to operate the technology altogether. The most successful programs incorporate it into their everyday operations and it just becomes a part of the standard care offerings for the facility. Those who become experts and industry leaders are the ones who work with it every single day!
All telehealth programs will be unique, but those that are most successful will find a way to incorporate these traits into their philosophy and practice.