The Stoltenberg Blog

Healthcare technology insights for competitive value-based care strategy

Common Telehealth Band-Aids®–and How to Fix Them

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, hospitals and health systems scrambled to stand up whatever kind of telehealth system could help meet their patients' immediate needs for virtual care. In some cases, that meant implementing or expanding imperfect "Band-Aid" solutions. Now, many months later, hospital executives must evaluate whether their telehealth solutions are capable of future sustainability and growth–or not.

Across the board, our consultants and IT professionals are noticing three distinct challenges hospitals currently face due to the rapid installation or expansion of telehealth solutions during the pandemic:

  • Lack of integration between a hospital's or health system's telehealth platform and its electronic health record (EHR) system and clinical tools.
  • No formal telehealth onboarding program to educate and support patients who are new to the technology.
  • Lackluster ongoing technical support for clinicians and other virtual care platform end users.

Let's take a closer look at these three telehealth challenges, along with what is needed to fix them for the long term.

How to address the challenges posed by rapid deployment

Challenge #1 – Lack of integration. The lack of integration between an organization's telehealth platform and its other clinical tools hinders care coordination and patient care delivery. Very often, the fragmented approach that results from patients and providers using multiple tools l leads to disjointed care with possible patient care decision-making delay, especially from a clinical care documentation standpoint.

Therefore, healthcare organizations should create a one-stop shop for patient care communication and access by completely integrating the EHR, patient portal and scheduling system with the telehealth platform. To further complement their telehealth platforms, many health systems are adding clinical dictation AI tools, language interpretation services, digital health devices, and remote patient monitoring capabilities to their integrated technology suites. Such integration allows patients to take a more active role in their healthcare journeys–whether scheduling an appointment, receiving reminders, paying off balances, or attending a virtual care appointment.

Together, strong clinical technology integration and support can help hospitals and health systems turn telehealth into a vital part of a fully integrated and patient-centered care delivery model.

Challenge #2–No formal telehealth onboarding program. If hospitals and health systems fail to train patients to use their telehealth platforms, patient adoption may be difficult. That's especially true for those patients who are less technology-savvy.

A new study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found a 63-fold increase in telehealth use among Medicare fee-for-service populations during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, older patient populations may be among those challenged by digital literacy gaps that can hinder telehealth adoption. And, without reliable technical support, frustrated patients are less likely to follow through with virtual care appointments or use virtual care in the future–with potentially negative impacts to care plan adherence and outcomes.

To overcome literacy gaps and strengthen patient engagement with telehealth, hospitals and health systems need to have a reliable telehealth patient onboarding program, despite current struggles to internally staff such programs due to hiring challenges due to "the great resignation" obstacles. It is possible to encourage patient adoption while mitigating IT help desk overload with the help of outsourced IT support agents who are experienced in telehealth launches and integrations.

Telehealth onboarding programs should be staffed with empathetic, patient, and thorough technical support agents who serve as digital healthcare ambassadors. They should help patients navigate any medical hindrances, such as poor hearing or vision, and carefully walk them through each step of the telehealth onboarding process–from where to find/access the platform, to downloading onto devices, along with initial set up, utilization navigation, walkthroughs, and customization.

A more thorough, one-on-one telehealth onboarding experience combined with ongoing support allows patients to feel more invested in telehealth and helps encourage them to remain engaged. As a result, hospitals and health systems can experience a deeper return on their telehealth and virtual care platform investments.

Challenge #3–Lackluster ongoing technical support for clinicians. Without reliable and clinically consultative technical support, providers may find that telehealth platform issues start to pile up and create bottlenecks that prevent them from fully utilizing and optimizing telehealth tools. Consequently, providers may be frustrated by missed patient appointments, clinical documentation backlogs, delayed referrals, or delayed medication authorizations.

On the other hand, dynamic and personalized IT support can help telehealth appointments run more efficiently and allow providers to serve more patients each day. In addition to increasing provider satisfaction by enabling more patient interactions, providers may also be able to maximize revenue without the operational and logistical hurdles of in-person office visits. For hospitals and health systems, optimizing telehealth utilization can help save operational and overhead costs, such as on exam room space.

Time to transition: From emergency response to sustainable solution

After the rush to adopt telehealth solutions at the pandemic's onset, healthcare organizations must now transition from emergency response mode to long-term telehealth and virtual care utilization strategies. However, doing so requires identifying and addressing the temporary Band-Aid solutions that many organizations were forced to take in the interest of quick deployment.

Clinically consultive EHR-certified IT Tier 1+ service desk agents can help drive a more integrated and strategic telehealth offering that engages patients and providers alike. For hospitals and health systems, greater telehealth utilization can help to optimize current IT investments. But most of all, strategic telehealth utilization enhances patients' access to care, with more satisfied patients and providers as a result.

Stay tuned for additional virtual care strategy insights via the Stoltenberg blog.

Maximize Your Telehealth Platform ROI

Maximize Your Telehealth Platform ROI

Get the most from your virtual care platform through dependable end-user IT support–from onboarding to ongoing troubleshooting and one-on-one telehealth patient and provider walkthroughs.