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Building a Telehealth Program: Where Do I Start?

By Will Ashton

Urgency as it relates to healthcare is nothing new. After all, who hasn’t complained about sitting in little more than a paper sheet for what feels like hours just to undergo a routine yearly physical? People want to know that they are healthy, and they don’t want to have to wait for the figurative green light before returning to daily life. As such, on-demand care has been a sought-after service for decades regardless of what you suffer from: strep throat, a broken wrist, or something chronic like Congestive Heart Failure.

 

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In this modern era of smart technology and increased communication and contact, we as patients expect 24/7 access to all things - and healthcare is no exception. How is this accomplished, though, and how do we train clinical staff in an ever-evolving market that not too long ago existed only in specific niches of the population? Telehealth offers incredible potential to deliver faster, more cost-effective care that at the end of the day is also better for the patient. However, this is no simple task.

 

Find Your Flag-Bearers

 

It’s no surprise that we are best at things we are passionate about. There are of course exceptions to this, but in general providers give the best care when they love what they do. Healthcare is specialized, and telehealth is just one branch of the many-armed beast we know as the medical field. Nevertheless, nurses and physicians in all areas of healthcare should be excited about what they do and motivated to serve their patients. So what happens when providers are apathetic about their telehealth services or are simply going through the motions because it’s their job?

 

While the benefits of telehealth are numerous, there is a reverse potential for decreased quality of patient care and disconnect from patients with a large and somewhat undedicated team. Every patient presents an opportunity to quite literally change and improve a life through proper care, social interaction, and companionship. Without such a mindset, however, both the patient and provider are at risk for poor overall care and general dissatisfaction with the telehealth program.

 

It is important to recognize the passionate individuals who will champion your telehealth program and seek to improve the quality of life for every enrolled patient. At the end of the day, healthcare isn’t and shouldn’t be “just a job”, but rather a commitment to helping others. Telehealth can be demanding and at times quite challenging, but having the right attitude makes all the difference. No patient wants to undergo an operation if their surgeon is thinking about an upcoming golf trip, or about the career in law she should have pursued. The same is true of a telehealth program and its members. It is essential to find your dedicated and compassionate team, whose individuals listen to, understand, and seek to improve the needs of their patients.

 

Encourage Hand-Raising

 

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Photo credit: Campaign Creators 

 

One of the many qualities that makes someone a good leader is his or her capacity to teach and to teach by example. Without the ability to communicate one’s vision to a team and strategize on how to best achieve certain goals, the results you’re looking for likely won’t come to fruition. But in the same way that communicating with and teaching others effectively leads to a strong internal team, we must also focus on the idea that asking questions can oftentimes be more valuable than answering them.

 

Many think that leaders are supposed to hold all the answers, however, the questions being asked are what truly drive productive conversation. As Jeff Boss puts it, “questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas and [good] ideas lead to innovation.” (3)

 

Healthcare organizations today face unparalleled challenges to improve quality, increase access, streamline efficiency, and cut costs, and so the need for innovation grows accordingly in order to deliver preventative and more personalized care.

 

Enter telehealth stage left.

 

If the goal at the end of the day is to provide superior and more proactive care at a fraction of the cost with technology, then we must first begin by asking the question, “where do we start?” So many people, especially in healthcare, are afraid to ask even simple questions for fear of seeming incompetent. For many, there is a concern that asking questions will open doors to liability, dissatisfaction, and embarrassment, when on the contrary, inquiry acts as a strong motivator in most situations.

 

Questions should be used to leverage problem-solving and fuel conversation, and it’s no secret that we have a lot of problems to solve when it comes to the current state of healthcare in the United States and at the global level. Direct questions within your team to spark passion and ingenuity, challenge team members to think past the obvious, and debate over best practices. IDEO, known for its human-centered design, employs the “How might we?” approach in three ways:

 

1. “How” implies that the problem at hand can in fact be solved

 

2. “Might” suggests that more than one method can exist when solving the problem

 

3. “We” indicates that the solution can be found by working as a team. Rather than fear questions, embrace them.  

 

Challenge the Status Quo

 

Patients suffering from chronic conditions benefit significantly from preventative measures aimed at reducing the severity and evolution of their diagnoses, and for a long time, telehealth has been used to exclusively target chronic care patients most at risk for hospital readmission. Telehealth allows providers to hand over the steering wheel of their patients’ care management to the patients themselves by offering tools that enhance engagement, education, and communication.

 

These very tools make it easier for patients and physicians to stay connected and empower patients to get healthier, addressing two of the main factors that contribute to avoidable ER visits and hospital readmissions. Everyone wins, right? But what about patients who don’t suffer from chronic conditions? What about patients diagnosed with mental health or behavioral health disorders among others? (1)

 

Provider shortages and increasing numbers of mental and behavioral health patients are creating gaps in the delivery of care to these populations, but telehealth may be the solution to give timely and cost-effective care for all patients regardless of diagnosis. In recent years, the demand for mental and behavioral health services has had a substantial and costly impact on healthcare networks nationwide, especially in Emergency Departments.

 

In 2013 alone, treatment for mental health disorders cost the nation $201 billion, more than that spent to treat heart disease or cancer. That said, though, studies indicate that as many as 44 million Americans experience some sort of behavioral health crisis per year, and yet 60 percent of those affected don’t seek treatment at all because of a lack of access or resources. (2)

 

Of course, there is much logistical work required to launch such programs, but why not use telehealth to serve patients seeking help in the ED due to poor access to behavioral and mental health facilities?  Telehealth stands to overcome barriers by offering healthcare access to patients from the comfort of their homes and offices.

 

Discreet, quick, and affordable, telemental and telebehavioral health services stand to offer sought after care wherever and whenever needed. No longer just a buzzword, telehealth is a viable treatment option for growing patient populations which no longer need to be limited to chronic care alone.

 

Click Here To Learn How Telehealth Can Help You Reach More Patients

 

  1. https://blog.evisit.com/infographic-improve-chronic-care-telemedicine
  2. https://mhealthintelligence.com/news/health-systems-target-telehealth-to-fill-a-mental-healthcare-gap
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffboss/2016/08/03/the-power-of-questions/#bd3769c62a5b

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