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Providers Visualize New mHealth, Telehealth Uses for the Video

No longer restricted to the TV screen or computer station, healthcare providers are partnering with telehealth and mHealth vendors on new video platforms that take in tablets and smartphones.

Source: ThinkStock

- With so many mHealth and telehealth platforms focused on care delivery through video, healthcare providers are finding new ways to put that form factor to use.

Much like the AT&T commercial in which Mark Wahlberg notes that entertainment is no longer confined to the large TV screen mounted on the wall, health systems are looking beyond the computer screen to make connections and push services

At Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System, administrators are turning around a digital health platform used for video interpreting and developing programs ranging from clinician-to-clinician communications to remote patient monitoring.

“We’re going beyond the expectations we had for [services like] Skype and Facetime,” Janet F. Rushing, RN, MSN, systems director for the eICU program at Geisinger’s Center for Telehealth, said during the recent American Telemedicine Association conference in Orlando. “This really is a simple piece of technology that we can use to connect people to each other.”

Last month’s ATA conference featured several vendors and education sessions focused on direct-to-consumer healthcare. And while that platform used to focus on the computer station or laptop, the advent of better video technology is pushing that platform to more mobile devices, like the tablet or smartphone.

Telehealth providers “are finding success expanding their video platforms to consumer-based equipment,” said Lee Horner, president of telehealth for Stratus Video, which got its start providing video-based interpretation services but is now involved in more than a dozen healthcare pilots using its video platform for other purposes. “In some instances we’re having physicians come to us with new ideas.”

Such is the case with Geisinger, which has three video-based pilots underway with Stratus.

“We look at the continuum of care for the patient,” said Tejal A. Raichura, MHA, Geisinger’s manager of innovations and research.

The attraction is mutual. A 2015 survey by the University of Missouri School of Medicine found that 80 percent of providers and patients were satisfied with the level of care provided over a video screen when used to connect doctors with rural patients.

More recently, a December 2016 survey by Rock Health found that roughly 22 percent of those surveyed had recently used video-based telehealth services, and more than a quarter planned to use the service in the near future.

The Medical University of South Carolina is using Vidyo’s telehealth platform and its Epic electronic health record platform in a pilot program that gives emergency responders quick video access to a mental health expert.

The year-old program, conducted with the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, dispatches an EMS supervisor to the scene when first responders encounter a patient with mental health issues. The EMS supervisor then launches a video chat with a psychiatrist at MUSC and helps to arrange appointments and transportation when necessary.

“When you’re doing a mental health consult, seeing the patient is very important,” said Michael Haschker, MUSC’s telehealth technology team leader. “Typically, in a mental health crisis, we’d have to wait [for first responders] to get a counselor on the phone.”

Haschker says video “has changed the scope of our reach,” giving providers a means of literally seeing patients where they are, in their own environments, rather than having them come into the hospital or doctor’s office for scheduled appointments.

And whereas old telehealth platforms required both patient and provider to be seated in front of a computer screen, new platforms extend those parameters to mobile devices, extending the reach of the video consult and making it more convenient for both doctor and patient to communicate.

“It’s all about fitting communication into [the provider’s] workflow,” said Mark Noble, vice president of strategic marketing for Vidyo, part of a recent partnership, announced at ATA, in which American Well and Samsung joined forces to put AmWell’s telehealth platform on Galaxy 8 devices. “And now doctors are thinking differently about how they can communicate.”

Roy Schoenberg, American Well’s CEO, said telehealth vendors who have long trumpeted the technology’s convenience for consumers are now setting their sights on healthcare providers.

Consumers know how to use their tablets and smartphones, he pointed out during an interview at the ATA conference. The challenge now is to teach providers how to fit those platforms more easily into their workflows and take advantage of those channels.

Haschker, whose hospital is the largest in South Carolina and he state’s only infectious diseases center, sees a future for video-enabled devices in ambulances and other emergency response vehicles, so that providers can get eyes on a patient before he/she reaches the hospital and can prepare properly for his/her arrival.

“The need to monitor them is very high,” he said. “This would give us a chance to actually see them” before they reach the hospital.

Horner said new video-based programs are targeted at making the consumer more comfortable, which in turn makes the provider’s job more productive. Outside the hospital, this means connecting to the patient on demand, on a device of the patient’s choosing. Inside the hospital, this means providing a service at the patient’s bedside.

‘We always talk of the advantage to patients,” he said. "But this also helps the doctors and nurses.”

At Geisinger, Rushing and Raichura said they’re constantly finding or hearing ideas for new uses of video – especially from nurses.

“Nurses are very visual beings, very hands-on,” says Rushing. “You feel like you need to see the patient to make a difference. All the data in the world is great, but unless you’re looking at someone you’re not in your comfort level.”

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