Making the Most Out of Telehealth

Every health system has a different strategy for using mHealth and telehealth that builds on its own strengths.

No two mHealth or telehealth programs are alike. Some telehealth platforms look great from the outside, but fall short of expectations. That’s why today’s healthcare providers looking to transition into telehealth must to consider both internal and external criteria before deciding what programs to pilot and what solutions to implement.

Medical University of South Carolina“A lot of the problems are with a fear of the unknown,” says Shawn Valeta, director of telehealth for the Medical University of South Carolina, which has had an extensive telehealth platform for more than a decade. “There’s so much out there; you have to sit down and think about what you really want to do with it before you start.”

Backed by $50 million in state funding, MUSC has developed a solid telestroke and tele-behavioral health program and has plans to grow its school-based telehealth program, provide telehealth services to correctional institutions, build a platform for large employers and get into remote patient monitoring.

In 2015, MUSC rolled out its school-based telehealth program to 3 select schools. MUSC began by identifying schools in the state’s poorest regions, where children with any sort of health issue went straight to the nearest ER. By linking with those schools, MUSC gave children and their parents – and school staff – a quick and convenient link to healthcare, reduced absenteeism, improved morale and reduced the strain on local hospitals. The school-based telehealth program is now in 20 schools, and MUSC plans to double that total by next year.

“Telehealth used to always be about distance and time, but now it’s about maximizing efficiency” for both patient and provider, says Valeta. “To do that, you need to make things more user-friendly. You don’t even think about the technology for a while – that comes last, and the people and the processes come first.”

Georgia Partnership for TelehealthIn nearby Georgia, Rena Brewer overseas the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth (GPT) network that spans three states and is branching into Central America. Brewer joined the GPT after serving as the director of the Southeastern Telehealth Resource Center, one of 14 federally funded centers (12 regional and two national) scattered across the country to provide guidance to local healthcare providers and others interested in launching and sustaining telehealth programs. While she recognizes the growth of telehealth across the country, Brewer has also see a lot of telehealth projects fail.

“Technology can be very intimidating, and many people make the mistake of thinking that’s where you have to start,” Brewer says. “Some hospitals just can’t get past that initial loss of revenue, so they lose interest or fail to push back. … They don’t realize that you don’t have to buy the Cadillac – you look at what you have and what your community really needs the most, you manage expectations and you create relationships.”

GPT also sees the potential in growing school-based telehealth, with more than 70 schools in Georgia alone are connected to their network, in addition to dozens of schools in neighboring states and a few colleges. Brewer and the GPT are also developing tele-behavioral health programs, and are pushing into skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).

Hospitals are also partnering with local physicians and clinics to create a community health network to extend the care typically only available in hospitals to patients who simply need to visit their local provider.

Both MUSC and the GPT are partners with Avizia, a Reston, Va.-based developer of telehealth platforms. Mike Baird, the company’s CEO and Alan Pitt, its chief medical officer, see three factors supporting the growth of telehealth:

  1. legislative interest
  2. consumer demand
  3. electronic medical record (EMRs/EHRs)

“Software is leading the trend,” says Baird. “EMRs haven’t been great at integrating” with telehealth platforms and mHealth devices, “but it’s becoming an evolution. Healthcare is pushing that forward, is demanding new ways to integrate.”

“The EMR is an operating system that isn’t deep,” adds Pitt, “so it needs apps to be more functional. That’s where telemedicine comes into play.”

Dr. Pitt has been monitoring a shift in how health systems approach care coordination. Traditionally, they created external business partnerships, but now they are bringing resources back into the institution. Fee-for-service care is giving way to role-based care, with the provider being the link. Business models are changing, but there are challenges. Hospitals generally have poor strategic roadmaps, says Pitt, and aside from the organizations with telehealth directors or chief innovation officers (a rare but growing C-suite position), few have someone on hand to “own” telehealth. In addition, the industry as a whole isn’t mature enough yet for health system to simply pick up the technology, plug it in and make the best use of it.

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Avizia was acquired by Amwell in July of 2018. Information on this page refers to activities that occurred prior to the acquisition and are presented for historical context. Together we provide a comprehensive acute care offering—a full end-to-end telemedicine solution for health systems and their providers.