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An interview with Cory Rehfeldt, Director of the Collaboration Practice at Logicalis US, and Kim Garriott, Principal Consultant, Healthcare Strategies, Logicalis Healthcare Solutions

If you’ve been to any healthcare IT events lately, you know that the buzz is all about telehealth.  Studies show at least 74 percent of the nation’s largest employers plan to offer telehealth benefits this year, and experts estimate virtual consults will increase a stunning 62 percent by 2020.  Telehealth is clearly a technology that’s on the rise, and one that every healthcare CIO should be thinking about.  What do you need to know? In this Q&A, we ask two of Logicalis’ top experts to weigh in.

Q: When people think about telehealth, the natural picture they have in their minds is of a patient at home on their computer chatting with their doctor remotely.  What other scenarios are becoming commonplace?

Hospitals are using telehealth to connect specialists in one area of the country with providers in rural areas, for example, where those specialties might not exist.  Think about burn centers or stroke centers, for example.  Rather than having to transport a patient who lives in one state to a specialty facility like one of these in another state, telehealth can enable clinicians to view the patient remotely and advise local practitioners how to provide top-level care in their local facility.

KG: Another important consideration is elderly or less affluent patients who have issues with transportation to regular appointments.  Whether someone lives in a remote area or simply finds inner-city mass transit insufficient, telehealth can provide the answer.

Q: What makes a telehealth solution successful?

CR: Quality of service plays an important role.  If the goal is to have the telehealth experience mimic an in-person visit, being able to see images clearly, talk without disruption, and securely and privately transfer images and documents is critical. A medical-grade network offers the industry-specific framework healthcare organizations need to deliver the kind of care experience that will make users feel as comfortable online as they do in person.

KG: While technology provides the backbone, it’s also important to pay close attention to the way the face-to-face experience is replicated in the virtual world.  For example, what’s the virtual waiting room like? Is information available to the patient there as it would be on tables or counters in the physical office?  Think through what the clinician should wear, what the setting behind the clinician looks, feels and sounds like.  And make sure that the visit feels both professional and private to the patient.

Q: What kind of solution is best for telehealth?

KG: There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ telehealth solution.  In fact, every need is different in some way, so it’s best to choose a solution that can be customized to meet the specific needs of the healthcare organization that will deploy it.

CR: It’s also important to remember that there are different uses for telehealth – some are hospital-to-hospital as in the case of a burn center or stroke specialty hospital talking to a rural hospital about caring for a patient locally.  Some telehealth solutions reside in pharmacies, and patients use those systems to communicate with an array of practitioners. In those cases, proprietary equipment works fine.  But if you’re talking about physicians talking to patients directly, then you need a more flexible system.  To do telehealth right, you have to master the idea of communicating clearly with patients from wherever they are, at any time of day or night, and on any device they have available while still maintaining a quality of service that makes them feel like they’re there in person.  When you have the right telehealth solution, it’s transformative.  We’ve installed some Cisco telehealth solutions, for example, that have given our healthcare clients unprecedented interoperability – something you absolutely need if you are connecting with patients in a variety of environments.

Q: Some have suggested that unified communications capabilities play an important role in the success of a telehealth implementation.  What do you think?

CR: It’s very important to consider what integrating the right collaboration tools can mean to the workflow of a busy hospital or doctor’s office; without presence, for example, you don’t know who is on call and available to talk with patients via telehealth.  When you have unified communications tools purpose-built into a customized telehealth solution, you can manage people, processes and costs much more effectively than you ever imagined.

KG: Doctors, nurses and other clinicians are busy people; for them to fit telehealth appointments into their already busy workflow requires the use of tools that make it easy and intuitive to use as well as scalable as telehealth’s popularity grows.

Q: What is the most important thing CIOs should know about telehealth?

CR: If they’re interested in implementing a telehealth solution, CIOs absolutely need to look for a medical-grade network that is purpose-built for telehealth, and they need one that can be customized to their organization’s unique needs.

KG: There are a lot of different aspects to telehealth that people rarely talk about.  Technology is only one aspect – a very important one – but only one aspect of a successful telehealth solution. You also have to consider the user experience, clinical workflow and quality of service in order to create a solution that everyone involved feels comfortable using.  Oftentimes, that means partnering with a solution provider that’s experienced in both healthcare in general and telehealth specifically.

Want to learn more? There are no shortcuts on the road to telehealth, but you can download a Logicalis Healthcare Solutions white paper, “How to Design and Implement a Successful Telehealth Program.” You can also find out why the success of your telehealth solution involves much more than just technology here, then read all about telehealth on the Logicalis Healthcare Solutions website.  Still hungry for information? Check out the latest healthcare IT news from Logicalis Healthcare Solutions.