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Telehealth Shifts its Focus

A new survey of healthcare execs finds that today's provider-facing telehealth platforms will soon be replaced by mHealth efforts targeting the consumer.

By Eric Wicklund

- Today’s telehealth solution may soon evolve into tomorrow’s mHealth platform.

That’s the conclusion drawn by a recent survey of some 280 healthcare executives by Avizia and Modern Healthcare. Their findings indicate that current provider-facing telehealth programs, hindered by a lack of funding, will give way to mobile platforms that cater more to the patient.

Consider it the next wave of telehealth, says Mike Baird, Avizia’s co-founder and CEO, and Alan Pitt, MD, the company’s chief medical officer and an attending physician and professor of neuroradiology at the Barrow Neurological Institute. Stung by the challenges of implementing an electronic medical records platform, providers are looking for more ROI from their technology. They want platforms that improve clinical care, address population management and reach out to consumers in their homes.

So they’ll be looking at platforms that leverage devices outside the hospital – think smartphones and online portals – and focus on patient engagement.

“Telehealth really is alive and kicking, but we’re still seeing thee early wave,” said Pitt, speaking to just before this week’s American Telemedicine Association conference, where the study was released. “The barriers to leveraging technology have changed greatly from just a few years ago.”

According to the survey, the most popular current telehealth trends are in stroke care (44 percent), behavioral health (39 percent) and staff education and training (28 percent), all services that start with the provider. But when healthcare executives look ahead, the survey says, they’re focusing on patient education and training (34 percent), remote patient monitoring (30 percent) and primary care services (27 percent).

That aligns with key drivers in telehealth. According to the survey, meeting patient/consumer demand comes in at the top, cited by 72 percent, and is followed by clinical outcomes (66 percent), meeting the goal of delivering value-based care (62 percent) and increased engagement with current patients (49 percent).

Now look at what providers are using. According to the survey, computer workstations (40 percent), telemedicine carts (33 percent) and “specialized telemedicine peripherals” (cameras, scopes and other devices, at 33 percent) are the most popular devices at present. For the future, executives are setting their sights on video visits through the EMR (38 percent), consumer-facing apps (31 percent), personal and company-owned mobile devices (23 percent and 21 percent), FDA-approved biometric patient monitoring devices (22 percent) and consumer-grade monitoring devices (20 percent).

While focused primarily on patient care, executives are also thinking about their clinicians – mobile apps for provider communication are on 25 percent of the wish lists.

In terms of barriers to implementation, according to Baird and Pitt, past reports had named consumer adoption as the top hindrance. That’s changing. The new survey finds that investments for telehealth technology and infrastructure (50 percent) and reimbursement (48 percent) top the list. Clinician resistance checks in at 25 percent, while maintenance/ongoing support for the technology and privileging and credentialing come in at 17 percent each.

Patient resistance, meanwhile, now stands at only 15 percent.

“It’s the patient who’s taking control of telehealth,” said Baird. “And it’s up to the IT departments and clinical departments to figure out how to catch up.”

That comment highlights another barrier – who’s taking ownership of telehealth. Pitt says the typical health system doesn’t have a clear idea of who should take charge. There’s “a cacophony of voices,” mixing in IT, clinical and senior management.

“There has to be a clear voice as to what the imperatives are going to be,” he said. “Someone has to take charge” and be the telehealth champion.

Baird and Pitt say the survey shows that healthcare providers are thinking outside the box – or, more specifically, the hospital – in mapping future telehealth efforts, and they’re paying more attention to mHealth tools. They’re also placing less of an emphasis on the technology and looking more closely at processes and populations. They’re looking for ways to use what they’ve got, and what their patients and other consumers have, to reach and affect more people.

Dig Deeper:

Making the Most Out of Telehealth

Physician Perspectives on Benefits of mHealth Adoption, Use




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