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A Q&A with Ed Simcox, Healthcare Practice Leader, Logicalis Healthcare Solutions

The roadblocks to widespread telehealth adoption are quickly becoming a thing of the past, particularly as millennials – who are intimately familiar and comfortable with the technology – become increasingly eager to replace time-consuming, in-person office visits with virtual ones.  Where reimbursement was once an issue, today’s acceptance of telehealth as an appropriate method of treatment has opened doors to faster payments. There is, however, still a key factor standing in the way of widespread telehealth adoption: Clinicians accustomed to practicing medicine in a traditional face-to-face setting are finding it difficult to incorporate telehealth into their daily workflow.

As important as it is to ensure patients are comfortable using telehealth, it is equally important to ensure physicians and their staff see telehealth as part of their regular workflow.  And the best way to do that is to leverage the healthcare organization’s existing electronic health record (EHR) system, an application that is already a central part of clinicians’ everyday experience.  In the following Q&A, we talk with Ed Simcox, Healthcare Practice Leader, Logicalis Healthcare Solutions, to learn more.

Q: How important is it to incorporate the healthcare organization’s existing EHR solution into a new telehealth program?

A: The application environment for telehealth is really what will make or break telehealth adoption among clinicians. Organizations that are able to leverage the existing EHR, which is already vital to the physician’s experience during in-office visits, and augment that with well-integrated, third-party capabilities that enhance the telehealth visit will create an easy-to-use application environment that clinicians will embrace.

Q: What can IT professionals do to help physicians and their staffs more readily adopt telehealth as part of their daily workflow?

A: There are four important steps CIOs can take to ensure clinician buy-in of a new telehealth program: Incorporate the existing EHR; tightly integrate third-party applications, make use of what’s already familiar, and avoid duplicated work efforts.  The key is to address these steps in the early stages of telehealth planning before any design or implementation takes place.

Q: Let’s look these steps one by one starting with incorporating the EHR.  Why is this so important and what does it look like in practice?

A: By relying on the existing EHR as the core application providing the portal for patient interaction as well as an integration point for scheduling, clinical notes documentation and the prescription of medications, solution providers can help create a virtual experience that not only emulates the physician’s in-office routine, but encourages clinicians to see telehealth as a primary way to practice medicine rather than an outlying service that happens to be offered but is not fully integrated into the practice.

Q: You have to integrate third-party applications along the way, though, correct?

A: Yes, but it’s important to do that with the EHR in mind. Some aspects of the telehealth experience will naturally be tied to the EHR from the start – electronic appointment setting, for example, may be done from the EHR’s secure patient portal.  Other aspects – such as a “virtual waiting room” – will need to be provided by an application outside of the EHR solution, yet must be seamlessly integrated into the EHR functionality to give physicians and their staff a streamlined user experience that feels as similar to an in-person visit as possible.

Q: When you say “make use of what’s already familiar,” what do you mean? A: Each step in the telehealth process should follow the same pattern of patient interaction and employ the same terminology – waiting room, intake/evaluation, examination, checkout, prescription, documentation – that clinicians are already accustomed to in face-to-face patient encounters. Experts agree, the more “normal” the experience feels for both patient and staff alike, the more likely telehealth is to be embraced by all.

Q: To make the best use of telehealth, and to encourage clinicians to make it a part of their daily workflow, it’s clearly important to avoid any duplication of work efforts. How can CIOs ensure that tasks like data entry, for example, are not duplicated throughout the course of a telehealth visit?

A: Everything in a well-oiled telehealth solution should be automated and streamlined. Consider the checkout process, for example. Since telehealth patients will schedule appointments online through a secure patient portal, they can also input their billing and payment information at the same time; this means there is no need for a manual check-out step at the end of the encounter. When the visit with the physician is over, the appointment simply ends saving both the patient and the facility additional time and resources as the visit comes to a close.

Want to learn more? Logicalis Healthcare Solutions predicts America’s young will drive telehealth adoption. But, as familiar as millennials are with IT, telehealth is not all about the technology; it’s also critical to make sure the patient is satisfied with the experience. And while there are no shortcuts on the road to telehealth, you can jumpstart your telehealth program by reading about the nine steps involved in a successful telehealth implementation, as well as the importance of implementing a medical-grade telehealth network, and downloading a Logicalis telehealth white paper, “How to Design and Implement a Successful Telehealth Program”: