A quarter of survey respondents who started with a departmental approach to managing telemedicine service say they are now transitioning to an enterprise approach.
Centrally managed telemedicine initiatives are increasingly common, and programs that aren't currently managing their programs that way are moving in that direction, according to the REACH Health 2017 U.S. Telemedicine Industry Benchmark Survey, which polled 436 healthcare executives, physicians, nurses, and other professionals.
The survey finds that 39% of respondents are using this "enterprise approach" to managing telemedicine, where initiatives are centrally managed/coordinated across services lines and/or settings of care.
Another 25% of respondents who started with a departmental approach are now transitioning to an enterprise approach.
Thirty-six percent say they are using a departmental approach, where telemedicine initiatives are started and managed by individual departments.
Respondents' views about which telemedicine platform features are most valuable to their organizations also reflects a shift to an enterprise approach.
Most Valuable Features
Three of the top six platform features are related to telemedicine data and analytics:
- Clinical documentation
- Ability to send documentation to/from the EMR
- Ability to analyze consult data
These were rated as critical or valuable by nearly 80% of respondents, the survey said.
"We saw a high degree of value placed on platform features related to data and analytics, EMR integration and support for off-the-shelf endpoints such as laptops and tablets. These features and capabilities tend to have a greater impact on the organization as a whole more than individual departments because they are integral to maximizing the value of investments in equipment and software," Steve McGraw, President and CEO of REACH Health, said in a statement.
"Conversely, features that tend to have more of an impact on individual departments, such as support for proprietary devices, are less frequently noted as critical or valuable."
This shift also reflects comments made by Richard Bakalar, MD, KPMG managing director and member of the firm's Global Healthcare Center of Excellence, who was recently interviewed about KPMG's Digital Health Pulse 2017.
He noted that for telehealth to be truly sustainable, hospitals and health systems must broaden the scope of telehealth projects, aggregating multiple service lines and multiple sites.
Reimbursement Remains a Challenge
"One service line with one or two remote locations is not going to be a tenable model," Bakalar said. "It's multiple non-sustainable projects that will give telehealth a bad name."
When asked about telemedicine challenges, REACH survey respondents pointed most often to reimbursement, which accounted for the top four unaddressed challenges to telemedicine:
- Medicare reimbursement
- inadequate telemedicine parity laws
- Medicaid reimbursement
- private payer reimbursement
Challenges related to EMR systems, such as lack of integration with current a EHR/EMR, and difficulty determining ROI, were also named among the top obstacles.
When it comes to the "why" of telemedicine, the top answer can be summed up in one word: Patients.
The REACH Health survey showed that patient-oriented objectives were the most common for telemedicine programs. Respondents were asked to rate their telemedicine program priorities, and the highest ranked objectives were improving patient outcomes, increasing patient engagement and satisfaction, and improving patient convenience.
Lower on the list were several subjects often discussed along with telemedicine, such as providing 24x7 access to specialists and reducing ED overcrowding.
Patients were also linked with ROI. In fact, when asked to rank their key contributors to ROI for their telemedicine programs, the top answer in both 2016 and 2017 was "improved patient satisfaction" followed by "keeping patients within our healthcare system."
Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.